News analysis

Real battle to transform Singapore football is only just kicking off

Lim Kia Tong (left) with Edwin Tong after announcement of the results of FAS election at Sports Hub Black Box auditorium. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

It was a match-up tipped to go into extra-time. In the end, 28 minutes was all it took for the winner to emerge from yesterday's historic Football Association of Singapore (FAS) election.

In the days leading up to the polls, the contest was still hard to call.

Both teams had shared privately that getting the required two-thirds majority in the first round might be difficult.

That the 44 affiliates took less than half an hour to give Team LKT a resounding victory took all by surprise, including FAS staff who had to bring forward the post-election press conference by two hours.

Lim Kia Tong (left) with Edwin Tong after announcement of the results of FAS election at Sports Hub Black Box auditorium. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI 

The disappointed faces of those from Team Game Changers and the relief that resonated in the voices of those in Team LKT as they emerged from the Sports Hub's Black Box auditorium told the story.

The Game Changers launched their campaign by unveiling a manifesto stylishly at the Fullerton Bay Hotel. Observers took note of the fresh faces on the slate, slick presentation and bold ideas.

But this was subsequently derailed by the arrest of their leader, Hougang United chairman Bill Ng. Mr Ng is being investigated by the Commercial Affairs Department and is out on police bail.

Team LKT had their fair share of challenges in the run-up to yesterday. Comprising many members from the previous FAS council, they fought from Day One to distance themselves from the previous leadership, one that the community has blamed for the decline of Singapore football.

But their ties with the community and the wider sporting ecosystem that the FAS operates within ultimately worked in their favour.

As deputy president Bernard Tan said at the post-election press conference, their ideas might not be "incredible and fantastic", but they are pegged to the resources football can realistically hope to get.

Regardless, the affiliates have spoken and Team LKT, in sweeping all positions, received a clear mandate to lead the FAS for the next four years.

The campaign rhetoric might have been divisive at times but a common thread ran through the fraternity's conversations, whatever their allegiance - that it was time for change.

This change must start from within. While Team LKT must lead with an eye to the future, they must also look to the past and heed the lessons from there.

The drama that unfolded over the past few weeks is proof that the FAS has serious organisational issues that must be fixed immediately.

For one thing, Team LKT members claimed that they were not consulted on several decisions former FAS chief Zainudin Nordin made, including asking Mr Ng for a $500,000 donation to the Asean Football Federation. They were also unaware that Mr Ng asked Mr Zainudin, a former MP of Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, to take over as Tiong Bahru FC chairman while the latter was still FAS president.

The new council must put stronger checks and balances in place. Mr Tan talked about establishing sub-committees to look into issues of transparency and governance, and this cannot come soon enough. The FAS is, after all, a registered charity operating on an annual budget of $35.8 million - well over what other sports associations enjoy.

While the new leaders have received a resounding endorsement from the community, they should not use this to railroad policy changes. Rather, they must abide by their campaign promise to be consultative.Many challenges lie ahead. One final whistle may have sounded, but the real battle to transform Singapore football is only just kicking off.

Over to you, Team LKT.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 30, 2017, with the headline 'Real battle to transform S'pore football is only just kicking off'. Subscribe