For the first time since the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, Singapore's footballers will not feature at the quadrennial competition.
The Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) Games appeals committee met yesterday. While it gave the nod to several other athletes and sports to compete at this year's Asiad in Indonesia, it rejected the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) plea for its Under-23 team.
Fandi Ahmad, FAS' head coach for youth who oversees the SEA Games and Asian Games teams, told The Straits Times yesterday: "It is a decision that we have no control over, and we understand that our recent results have not been good, so we respect their decision."
The SNOC's criteria requires nominees to demonstrate an ability to beat opponents that finished in the top six at the last Asiad.
Fandi's team were hoping to impress SNOC with a strong performance in last Wednesday's friendly against Myanmar's U-23 side at the Bishan Stadium but his charges fell 2-0. They also failed to meet expectations at May's Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy, an Under-22 tournament hosted in Brunei.
The Republic started well in Brunei by trouncing Laos 5-1, but were then beaten by Cambodia (1-0) and Timor Leste (2-1).
"Football is the only sport at the Asian Games with an age restriction. It is an U-23 tournament and it's a difficult situation for us," added Fandi, pointing to his players' school and National Service commitments, on top of having to arrange matches within Fifa international windows around those commitments. "We hope that they can give us another chance next time, with a different criteria."
SUCCESSFUL APPEALS FOR THE ASIAD
Men's Team: Poon Hua, Loo Choon Chou, Zhang Yukun, Fong Kien Hoong, Desmond Oh, Kelvin Ong
Men's pair: Poon Hua, Loo Choon Chou, Zhang Yukun, Fong Kien Hoong
Men's 62kg: Daryl Chia
85kg: Ng Wee Kok, Quek Koh Hui
Women's 62kg: Constance Lien, May Ooi
Women's Class C (60kg): Siti Khadijah Shahrem
RS:X (women): Amanda Ng
Combined: Vanessa Si
His teams' struggles have been long-standing. They were booted out of the group stage at last year's Kuala Lumpur SEA Games, after another early exit at the 2015 Games.
SNOC secretary-general Chris Chan said: "Football didn't meet the mark, it's as simple as that.
"There are 266 athletes who met, or who are marginally off the sixth-place mark, we can't say that it's difficult. There has been suggestion of a different criteria for football because it's the only sport that has an age restriction, but it's difficult to justify that because for any team sport, the teams aren't all the same at the next Games."
He added SNOC waited for football's latest result against Myanmar, as it did for other sports like beach volleyball, ju-jitsu, sailing, and rugby ahead of the Aug 18-Sept 2 Asiad in Jakarta and Palembang.
Chan noted: "FAS may want to follow what many NSAs do, and send their teams or athletes to overseas competitions and get results to show SNOC that they are ready for the Asian Games."
While beach volleyball and football failed to meet requirements, athletes from ju-jitsu, rugby sevens, sailing, sport climbing, silat and contract bridge made the cut.
The final contingent will be 266 athletes across 21 sports with a final entry-by-name contingent list to be submitted before Saturday.
This is Singapore's biggest Asiad squad, with the previous largest being 240 at the 2010 Games in Guangzhou, China.
Despite the disappointment, Fandi said he was focused on the future, which includes putting up a strong showing at the 2019 SEA Games in the Philippines.
"We are hoping to get the team to play international games at all Fifa dates, so they get more exposure; we just don't play enough," he said.
"We have already arranged to play a friendly with Macau, and some Australian clubs in August, but because the games don't fall on Fifa dates, we will struggle to get our full team. These things continue to be a problem for us."