'Unleash The Roar' plan to lift local football and unite S'poreans

An elite youth league will be set up to complement the current National School Games. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - A new national project, called "Unleash the Roar" will be launched to grow local football, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong announced in Parliament on Monday (March 8).

Noting that football is a sport with "mass appeal" and also the most participated team sport in Singapore, Mr Tong added that football in the Republic is "not quite where we would like it to be".

But a "whole-of-society" partnership can lift the sport toward excellence, he said in Parliament.

"A national team that can perform at the highest levels affirms Singapore's multiple pathways of success, and is a source of national pride…. Our football is not quite where we would like it to be," said Mr Tong.

"We can do more, and we can do better, to rekindle the Kallang Roar, and give our young Lions every opportunity to pursue their dreams."

The project is related to the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) goal for the national team to qualify for the 2034 Fifa World Cup, which Mr Tong had first revealed to The Straits Times in August 2019 in his previous role as FAS vice-president. The goal had then sparked both praise and criticism from the community and fans with some pointing to the failed Goal 2010 project that was first mooted in 1998.

The aim of the new project is to create opportunities for more young Singaporean boys and girls to undergo sustained and structured high-quality football training, with talent pathways for those who wish to play professionally.

The first phase of the project will be rolled out over the next two years to lay the foundation for football teams across the age groups to be more competitive on the regional and international stages.

The implementation of the project will be focused on eight pillars. Among them are a National Football Curriculum by the FAS to be adopted in primary school and made accessible to public and private football clubs and academies.

On Monday, Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth Eric Chua said that School Football Academies will be established in selected secondary schools and the players will compete in an elite youth league.

For those who wish to pursue a professional career in football, local and overseas scholarships will be provided for top talents, as Mr Chua added that the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) is in discussions with overseas football leagues and institutions such as Spain's La Liga, German club Borussia Dortmund and Australian colleges such as Maribyrnong College.

The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth is working with the Ministry of Defence to "tap support avenues for eligible footballers, including early enlistment, leave and time-off for NSFs to train" as well as opportunities to continue training and playing at top levels while fulfilling their National Service obligations, said Mr Chua.

The project's other pillars include enhancing coaching support in schools, enhanced technical capacity and capability, sports science, infrastructure and a "whole-of-society" partnership.

The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) and national sports agency Sport Singapore are expected to announce more details in a media conference on Tuesday.

Even with all these initiatives in place, there is "one more ingredient for success", said Mr Tong.

He added: "And that is our collective unity to pursue a shared goal. It has to be all of us, working together, united, pulling in the same direction, for this project to have a chance. Uplifting Singapore football is a national project, and I encourage all of us to rally around our common goal."

Members of the football fraternity welcomed the announcement of the plan.

Former national goalkeeper Lionel Lewis, now the sports development manager at Nanyang Polytechnic, said having a long-term goal was bound to lift standards.

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He pointed to how the Goal 2010 project ultimately failed to get the Lions to the World Cup but led to a rise in standards and three Asean Championship titles (in 2004, 2007 and 2012). The Lions also reached the final round of qualifiers for the Asian Cup.

"You could see a lot of improvements in the fundamentals in the football ecosystem," said Mr Lewis, 38.

"Of course there will be critics, but to me, this goal is not about getting to the World Cup per se. It's about developing local football as a whole."

National Under-15 coach Philippe Aw, said he hoped the new plans would help young players master their basics at an earlier age and give them the tools they need to compete when they are older.

"Over my time as a youth coach, often a player comes to me at 16 and we have to play catch-up because we are working on things he needed to do when he was 12," said Mr Aw, 43.

"There is a lot of talk about the golden age of learning between nine and 12… I really hope we get it right this time."

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Parents of budding footballers also gave their approval.

Leslie Mui, whose son Harold, 12, plays in the ActiveSG Academy, said he was "very excited" by the project.

The 50-year-old real estate salesperson believes that parents like him are now more open to their children pursuing sports as a career, adding that parents would more likely be won over if the authorities could help "ensure that after a player's playing career there is a (pathway) to a decent second career related to sport".

Civil servant Hasyim Hassan, whose two sons aged 13 and 17 play football, added: "What I am excited about is now there will be a structure, a system, and avenues that can help my sons fulfill their dreams."

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