Letter to new FAS president Lim Kia Tong

Team LKT will serve in the FAS Council for four years.

 

Dear Mr President,

Congratulations on Team LKT’s resounding success at the FAS elections on Saturday. Your margin of victory was unexpected because I — and I’m sure many others — anticipated a close battle with Game Changers.

But your team have now received a clear mandate to run football for the next four years and you reciprocated with the promise to bring about “sweeping changes”. The real work for your new Council, as you said, starts immediately to “heal Singapore football and bring back the glory days”.

Healing must come first because the heart of Singapore football was torn apart by management lapses, inaction and poor vision in the last nine years. The wreckage is obvious to all, and I am sure to you — near empty stands at S-League matches and the poor performances of our national teams, from the senior to age-group squads.

What is not obvious is the bitterness of many, especially former FAS employees, coaches and national players. One example is of a retired Lion who gave much to the country and local game, and ranted with venom not too long ago: “I don’t want anything to do with the FAS or Singapore football.”

What consumed him with so much animosity for the FAS is anybody’s guess. But he is not the only former national player, coach and employee who have washed their hands of local football. I suppose some wounds are best left unopened, unless someone reaches out to heal them.

But they are not the exception.

In my years of covering football as a journalist, staff at the sport’s headquarters often spoke in hushed tones, even for casual chatter. Sometimes they prefer to meet at coffee shops, away from the shadows of Jalan Besar. Other times, when it is official business, they rather not answer their phones. Such is the pall of fear hanging over the FAS offices.

It is unhealthy.

Football is Singapore’s number one sport and the FAS need to engage the public openly, not only through the mainstream media, but new media as well. It can’t do this behind locked doors and with staff looking over their shoulders. This, I am convinced, is why there is a disconnect between the local game and fans.

I’ve said once that the secretariat and Singapore football are managed like a gulag and my view has not changed. So, I believe many in the FAS’ rank and file also need healing, while others have to be … exorcised.

The unhappiness at the 44 affiliates has been well documented over the last few weeks, so I won’t take any of your time listing them out for you.

But you are spot on, Mr Lim Kia Tong, that Singapore football needs healing.

That is why when it was announced two years ago that FIFA wanted the FAS to hold elections for Council seats, the football fraternity scrambled to organise teams to contest it, with the same vision: To heal Singapore football.

They wanted to offer an alternative to the incumbents. Game Changers is a microcosm of this option, especially of the wider non-voting football community — the fans and non-FAS affiliated stakeholders.

But you’ve been magnanimous in victory, inviting members of Game Changers to work with you to take football forward. I sincerely hope you will follow through with this and hope they accept because they have a few good men like Steven Tan who ran football alongside the late N Ganesan with overwhelming success in the 1970s and 1980s. He and others like him have a wealth of knowledge that your team can tap on.

It is only when healing begins that unity among all factions, including fans, can come about. The glory days are the by-product.

You’ve already set a timeline to begin your team’s work for a new beginning and have put the secretariat and administration as priorities. Which you are spot on, again, because if Team LKT’s plans for the rejuvenation for Singapore football are to take off, you need a motivated secretariat to execute them.

Or else, everything is just words.

Results we expect but we also know that Rome wasn’t built in a day, especially when Singapore football is in bits and pieces. But your team need to roll up their sleeves, get on the ground and then show us that your plans are taking shape.

With this, I wish Team LKT a resounding success during your four-year tenure, perhaps longer.

IAN DE COTTA