FAS gets tough on puffs

Smoking among local footballers a real issue: Fandi Ahmad

Fandi Ahmad (third from right) at his first training session with the Young Lions. He revealed that 12 of the players admitted that they were smokers.
Fandi Ahmad (third from right) at his first training session with the Young Lions. He revealed that 12 of the players admitted that they were smokers.

FAS aims to eradicate cigarette culture, with Young Lions responding well to measures

A starting XI of footballers who smoke. Plus a substitute.

That is the scale of the problem facing Young Lions coach Fandi Ahmad after he confronted his 25-man team following a training session earlier this month at the Jalan Besar Stadium and almost half confessed to being smokers.

"We had a talk with the boys, where we explained to them the new rules on smoking, and 12 of them admitted that they are smokers.

"But the response has been very good, not a single one has been caught smoking - and we made sure to conduct checks," Fandi told The Straits Times this week.

He declined to reveal who the 12 players were but said they have all agreed to take steps to stop smoking.

In a move to tackle the long-standing issue of smoking among local professional footballers, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) has taken a firm stance on its Young Lions squad, who are effectively the Republic's national Under-23 team.

It is part of the FAS' overall bid to overhaul the local game to raise standards and win back fans, who have slowly deserted the sport in the last few years.

Former national coach Raddy Avramovic had in the past conceded that there was a smoking culture among a handful in his team.

  • 48%

  • of Fandi's Young Lions (12 of 25) smoke.

"I was a smoker during my playing days and even now, but since I've been in Japan (for the last) month, I've already stopped because of the professionalism in the environment around me," said Noor Ali, a former Lion now coaching the Under-18 team of Japanese side Matsumoto Yamaga.

"It is a great idea to ban smoking, and we must stop this habit early. I know it is hard to quit, but we must. There is no place for this in the fast-paced modern game."

The Young Lions have finished bottom in the nine-team S-League in the last two years and failed to reach the semi-finals of the past two SEA Games.

The FAS will first offer help to get the smokers to quit the habit through a programme. If the players continue to smoke, they face a fine and suspension or dismissal from the team as a last resort.

 
 

The 55-year-old Fandi, who does not smoke, added: "The plan is to provide counselling to these smokers, and they will be given a timeframe to quit. The aim is to get this done before the league kicks off at the end of March."

The S-League begins on March 31, with champions Albirex Niigata facing Tampines Rovers at the National Stadium. The Young Lions are scheduled to play their opening game the next day.

Besides the clampdown on smoking, the FAS is also aiming to improve players' performances on the pitch by changing the mandatory fitness test which they need to pass to play. The previous 2.4km fitness test has been replaced this season by the Yo-Yo test which will be held twice or thrice across the year.

Fandi, who is FAS head coach (youth) and oversees the SEA Games and Asian Games squads, noted: "Smoking is a problem and it will affect fitness levels. This is a good move that I think will help the team in the long run. And it will also be better for the health of the smokers who quit."

He briefed his players on the new rule before the Young Lions left for Malaysia last week, where they played three friendlies against U-21 club sides.

The former Singapore captain revealed that spot checks were conducted in and around the hotel in Kuala Lumpur and he and his coaching staff did not encounter any disciplinary issues with players sneaking off to smoke.

He added: "We will follow the rules, and that means that those who do not comply will be sacked."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2018, with the headline 'Smoking a real issue: Fandi'. Print Edition | Subscribe