Stags keen on longer contracts

The club has paid up the CPF arrears and salaries owed and will honour its debt of $1.5 million, says chairman Desmond Ong, a leading dispute resolution and corporate lawyer.
The club has paid up the CPF arrears and salaries owed and will honour its debt of $1.5 million, says chairman Desmond Ong, a leading dispute resolution and corporate lawyer.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

New chief Desmond Ong favours greater job security but players must ink code of conduct

It is not really the best of times to be an S-League player, given the uncertainty surrounding Singapore football.

But new Tampines Rovers chairman Desmond Ong wants to buck that trend by handing players two-and three-year contracts.

Job security is a key concern for many local players as some clubs are known to hand out 11-month contracts. This is allegedly designed to avoid paying out the 13th-month bonus and leads to an annual scramble for new deals at the end of every season.

Ong, appointed last month to succeed fellow lawyer Krishna Ramachandra, hopes longer contracts will address the issue of job insecurity.

He told The Straits Times yesterday: "We've made a promise to the players - we want to commit them to two-to three-year contracts. Even if the (budget of the) league is halved, they take less money up front but they have the job security.

"Another promise which we hope to put into place is that after three years (of the playing contract), we will send them for some form of vocational training or a coaching course. We will part-pay."

But the long-term deals have a caveat - the players must sign and abide by a strict code of conduct.

STARTING SMALL, DOING WELL

We are not here to win the World Cup but at least whatever garden plot that we are in charge of, we want to make it the best possible one.

DESMOND ONG, incoming Tampines Rovers chairman, on imposing good governance at the club.

Ong, the managing partner of legal firm JLC Advisors, is aware that some of his players keep late nights, smoke and do not have healthy diets. He hopes that, through the code of conduct, the footballers will adopt more professional lifestyles.

He did not rule out implementing measures such as body fat measurement and fitness tests to keep the Stags in fighting shape.

With the team now installed in their spanking new home at Our Tampines Hub (OTH), there are plans to win the hearts and minds of the residents.

One such idea is to let fans enjoy a discount at OTH's retail outlets if they produce a ticket stub on match days. On non-match days, where human traffic is lighter at the facility, the discount rate could be higher in order to attract more customers.

There will be thematic match-day experiences, such as a day attended by celebrities or an evening where healthcare staff in nearby hospitals are honoured at OTH.

However, it remains to be seen if Tampines' pockets are as big as their dreams.

As reported in ST last month, national sports agency Sports Singapore has nearly halved the funding for next season's S-League competition, slashing the amount from $16 million to $8.5 million.

Officials from SportSG and Football Association of Singapore are expected to meet this month to reach a settlement over the funding issue.

While subsidies, worth $800,000 annually to local S-League clubs, could be reduced, Tampines - who are second in the nine-team table with four matches to play - have an extra burden to bear.

Ong said that the Stags have a debt of $1.5 million, which is the typical annual budget of a club.

Last year, it over-stretched its finances in its pursuit of glory, most notably in the signing of former Arsenal and Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant, who earned $20,000 monthly. It was also in the news for late payments for some players' Central Provident Fund (CPF).

Ong said: "The CPF arrears and outstanding salaries that we are aware of have been paid up.

"We intend to honour that debt of $1.5 million.

"Having plugged most holes in the boat, there are still a few but I don't think we will sink any time soon."

Ong, one of the few to be consistently cited as a leading individual in the Asia Pacific Legal 500 in both the dispute resolution and corporate categories, has given Tampines' management committee a shake-up since coming on board.

He has formed a six-man panel made up of top professionals from the marketing, accounting and legal sectors. His "star signing" is vice-chairman Lee Lung Nien, the chief executive officer of Citibank in Malaysia.

The high-powered committee has since secured $250,000 in sponsorship. But Ong admitted that if the league's funding suffers a drastic reduction, Tampines will have to "cut our coat according to our cloth".

He added: "We (the Tampines management) are determined to do right. We felt that there is a good cause and we need to step in. We are not here to win the World Cup but at least whatever garden plot that we are in charge of, we want to make it the best possible one."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2017, with the headline 'Stags keen on longer contracts'. Print Edition | Subscribe