Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong may have joked last night about the "foolish" goal set by Football Association of Singapore (FAS) vice-president Edwin Tong to qualify the national team for the 2034 World Cup, but he was serious when it came to throwing his support behind the ambitious target.
Mr Goh, who was guest of honour at the Chiam See Tong Sports Fund gala dinner, told the audience at the Marriott Tang Plaza that he had set three targets for Singapore when he was Prime Minister.
They were for Team Singapore to win an Olympic gold in sailing by 2008, qualify for the World Cup in 2010 and to qualify for badminton's Thomas Cup Finals in 2012.
In 1998, Mr Goh sparked the Goal 2010 dream after suggesting at the National Day Rally that Singapore could naturalise foreign talent to reinforce the Lions and qualify for the showcase tournament.
He said in his speech last night: "While we did not succeed (in achieving the three goals), we must always dare to try. We must never give up chasing our dreams, both individually and as a nation.
"Today, we might not be at the very top but we are producing globally competitive athletes in sports such as swimming, sailing, table tennis, bowling and silat."
He added, to applause and laughter: "My colleague Edwin Tong is foolish enough to set a goal for Singapore to qualify for the World Cup 2034. But that's the spirit, you must have something in mind and even if you don't qualify, the standard will be raised. Good luck to you, Edwin."
On Saturday, Mr Tong told The Straits Times that the FAS had set an ambitious goal for Singapore to compete at the 2034 World Cup, adding that it was a "realistic" goal to achieve in 15 years' time.
SET OUR SIGHTS HIGH
That's the spirit, you must have something in mind and even if you don't qualify, the standard will be raised. Good luck to you, Edwin.
ESM GOH CHOK TONG, on FAS VP Edwin Tong's World Cup qualifying goal.
While the plans are still being finalised, he cited grassroots football, youth development, schools and facilities as the keys to helping the FAS achieve its target.
While some members of the football fraternity welcomed the news, the FAS' lofty dream has also been met with derision and scepticism, particularly from those who remember the failed project that was Goal 2010.
While the Lions were 81st in the Fifa rankings in 1998 when Mr Goh first spoke about the World Cup, the national team are now 162nd in the world and 34th among the Asian Football Confederation teams.
Mr Tong took heart from the support shown by Mr Goh last night and remains undaunted by the monumental task ahead.
He said with a chuckle: "I would say that it is encouraging but I always wanted this effort to be a galvanising effort to bring people behind it, the country and all the stakeholders behind it, so I am heartened by it (Mr Goh's words)."
Last night's gala dinner raised $160,000 for the fund to help under-resourced athletes.
The event was attended by co-patrons Mr Chiam and his wife Lina, as well as Paralympic swimming champion Yip Pin Xiu, para swimmer Theresa Goh, corporate leaders and members of the sports fraternity.