The National Football League (NFL) Division One title race between Yishun Sentek Mariners and the Singapore Armed Forces Sports Association (Safsa) looks set to reach a controversial conclusion regardless of which club are crowned champions tomorrow.
Both clubs were involved in a brawl during their match on Nov 12 but have yet to face sanctions from the Football Association of Singapore (FAS).
The Straits Times understands that an independent panel to oversee the disciplinary hearings will only be convened next week and that any verdict and potential punishment will take place only after the 2017 NFL campaign, which ends tomorrow. Should there be any points deducted for either club, this will only come into effect for the 2018 season.
Yishun lead the 12-team standings and their 57-point tally is just one ahead of Safsa. Both clubs declined to comment last night.
In 2010, S-League sides Beijing Guoan and the Young Lions were involved in a mass brawl. Both clubs were suspended immediately, fined and within three weeks eventually docked five points each.
That incident occurred in September, allowing the FAS some leeway in terms of rescheduling fixtures because about two months remained before the season ended.
Such breathing space was not available following the NFL incident and it is understood that Yishun and Safsa will be allowed to continue their fixtures this time because of the time crunch.
It isn't about Yishun or Safsa; discipline needs to be enforced throughout the NFL, otherwise what message are we sending?
HARMAN ALI, president of GFA Victoria, NFL Division Two side.
THE PROCESS IS CONTINUING
Investigations by an independent panel appointed by the FAS are still ongoing.
"Investigations by an independent panel appointed by the FAS are still ongoing," said an FAS spokesman. "The FAS has provided the police with the necessary assistance and will continue to do so when required."
Safsa face Eunos Crescent at the Jurong East Stadium, while Yishun take on Admiralty FC at Jalan Besar tomorrow to decide the destination of the NFL Division One title.
Balestier United Recreation Club are third on 44 points, with Tiong Bahru fourth on 40.
In addition, while the FAS' own disciplinary committee (DC) usually handles such matters, it has had to appoint an independent panel to prevent any hint of a conflict of interest this time round because a Yishun official - Yakob Hashim - is a member of the FAS Council.
Alim Omar, sports secretary of NFL Division Two side South Avenue, said: "It's good to have external parties handle the situation, because of Yakob's position in the council. Allowing the league to finish is a good move, and there isn't an issue with carrying forward any punishment to next season."
The move has, however, raised eyebrows within the NFL fraternity. Harman Ali, president of GFA Victoria, an NFL Division Two side. said: "I think the DC should've been convened quickly after the incident, simply because discipline should not be compromised.
"These are Division One teams, and the incident happened in full view (the Safsa-Yishun game was telecast live on the Internet), and urgent action is required.
"It isn't about Yishun or Safsa; discipline needs to be enforced throughout the NFL, otherwise what message are we sending?"
An NFL club official who spoke on condition of anonymity also disagreed on the appointment of an external party.
He added: "The DC was voted in by the FAS' affiliates, the DC is not made up of employees of the FAS - and they should be independent.
"If FAS thinks they can't make an independent decision, I think that should be made known to the affiliates."
In response to queries from ST, an FAS spokesman revealed that despite both teams being allowed back onto the field of play, they will have to play without those who were sanctioned by the referee following the brawl.
Yishun had four players shown the red card for their roles in the fracas while Safsa will also miss four players for tomorrow's game.
It is understood that Yishun have, on their own accord, also banned several players who were involved in the incident, but escaped sanctions by the match referee.