Sport Singapore (SportSG) chief executive officer Lim Teck Yin yesterday defended the ActiveSG Football Academy, a grassroots football initiative, amid complaints that its cheaper programmes are undercutting the private sector.
The project was launched last year to increase participation at grassroots level and to promote healthy living, among other goals.
But it has drawn the ire of private football academies, who lament that SportSG, backed by government funding and which operates most sporting facilities islandwide, is causing them to lose business.
The ActiveSG Football Academy charges $130 for a maximum of 29 sessions and counts household names like Aleksandar Duric, the Academy's principal, and four-time S-League-winning coach Richard Bok among its staff.
In contrast, private football academies can charge up to $40 per session.
Everyone has their own perspective and we're listening very carefully to what (the private academies) are saying. But my reaction cannot be to raise prices of the programme.
LIM TECK YIN, SportSG chief, vowing to ensure that ActiveSG programmes are kept affordable.
Lim pointed out that some of these academies also benefit from subsidised use of public facilities.
He said: "What we are trying to do is influence the shape of the overall football ecosystem. We have to play to our strengths.
"I'm not saying the private academies should be grateful for the subsidies... but there is an ecosystem out there everyone can be a part of.
"Everyone has their own perspective and we're listening very carefully to what (the private academies) are saying. But my reaction cannot be to raise prices of the programme."
He added that SportSG encourages parents to sign up their children for different academies to try out different sports and this can only be done if prices are affordable.
He was speaking at the signing of a memorandum of understanding between SportSG and the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) at the Jurong East Stadium.
The agreement will see a merger between two grassroots football initiatives - ActiveSG Football Academy's junior programme (for children aged six to 12) and the FAS' Cubs Programme. The latter is separate from the FAS' Junior Centres of Excellence, which is geared towards high performance.
The new entity, called the Active Cubs Programme, will be run by ActiveSG. SportSG is also in discussions with the People's Association's PAssion Children's Football Programme to work together with its ActiveSG Football Academy.
The FAS, meanwhile, will provide the coaching syllabus adopted from technical director Michel Sablon's coaching manual. The Belgium was responsible for the 2004 blueprint that helped develop his country's crop of talented players like Kevin de Bruyne, Vincent Kompany and Eden Hazard.
The FAS will also identify talented players in the ActiveSG set-up and help these youngsters transit to its elite programmes.
Duric, 46, said he was pleased with the ActiveSG Academy's progress so far. In less than a year, it has grown from five to eight centres and has had more than 600 participants. It also announced a partnership with S-League club Hougang United to roll out a ninth training centre.
The former national striker added: "Our first year has been a very successful one. However, this is just the start and we have to keep improving if we are to produce the young and talented players needed for Singapore football to thrive in the future."
Asked if ActiveSG was helping the FAS do its job by promoting grassroots football, FAS vice-president Bernard Tan said: "It has always been our plan not to be a service provider."
He added that this will allow the FAS to focus on other important areas, including coaching development and growing the local league.
To that end, the FAS will hold training programmes and certification courses to upgrade existing grassroots coaches.
Sablon said: "As more youths start playing football, the number of grassroots coaches will have to go up. I encourage all coaches, including those from the private academies, to join our training courses."
Officials from SportSG and FAS stated their hope was that these schemes will ultimately improve the fortunes of the national team, which fell to an all-time low world ranking of 171st last October. The Lions are ranked 163rd.
Tan said: "If we get (grassroots football) right, we'll have a pool of players coming up who have developed the right basic movements and technical skills. This gives us (a base) to form a national team of a substantially different quality."