ZIP your mouth: This appears to be the new strategy at the football headquarters at Jalan Besar Stadium.
It is reliably learnt that the new Lim Kia Tong regime has insisted that a ‘Code of Conduct’ (COC) be signed by every staff and volunteer, even national and age-group players, which among many things bar communicating with the media and/or public on internal matters of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS).
“The multi-page COC surprised many as it is worse than tieing our hands behind the back when now is the time for proper reorganisation internally and internationally,” says a FAS staff with a decade experience. “You can put this on record that morale is at its lowest at the moment because of some of the high-handed approach of the new committee.”
Another FAS volunteer, who has served for 15 years, says there’s an “element of fear” because anyone who squeals risk facing the boot. He says: “The management knows that public perception of FAS is at its lowest. But silencing the staff or volunteer and creating an element of fear and suspicion is not the way to go.
“You cannot turn a ‘blind eye’ now. Even SportsSG is relooking at the ways FAS is funded, so it’s the right time to reach out to everyone who loves football. They should be encouraging everyone to speak up to find serious and sincere ways to lift the organisation, internally and internationally.”
Majority of those interviewed in this article declined to be named because fear, frustration and a strong sense of the football community were the prevalent feelings in the shadow of the overall blackened field of play.
“One the face of it the purported COC would inject professionalism and due confidentiality on the treatment of information,” remarks a leading S-League Chairman, who wants to remain anonymous. “However, it must not end up being a guise for gagging whistle-blowing and accountability. Something as significant as this COC must be done in consultation with SportsSG and the wider football fraternity. It cannot and should not be unilaterally implemented by (Lim) Kia Tong and his merry men.”
A former FAS Council Member, who declined to be named, clarified that ‘Codes of Conduct’ for both councillors, staff and volunteers are required as a “stop-gap measure on unnecessary leaks of information”. He says: “In the longer-term, it helps councils identify and agree on the desired standard of behaviour. They also clearly state the consequences of any breaches of the code.
“Having good codes of conduct that are understood and supported by everyone involved with the FAS is important for good governance. In my opinion, it helps the team and the administration think about their culture and articulate the desired standards of good behaviour.
“Preparing a code of conduct is an opportunity for management to think about what conduct issues are important for them. Good processes for preparation and review help raise awareness and ownership of the code. Yes, codes of conduct also clearly state the consequences of any breaches of conduct. Those who do not comply may be subject to disciplinary action or even dismissal.”
Senior staffers say that after the new leadership came in following the April 29 elections, which was hotly contested, a major revamp was on the cards. But now it seems that there are “plots and plans for the removal of those who’re not their ‘yes men’, which is a very sad day for football”.
“There is a clown in every circus and the clowns in the FAS circus will rue the day they installed leaders who have their own personal agendas without any regards to an amicable policy to set right the plenty of past wrongs,” says a veteran sub-committee member.
Some say the recent separation of football and politics is a good thing, without a politician at the helm, with lawyer Lim Kia Tong wearing the captain’s armband. But has this really forced the FAS to shake up its overall infrastructure and perhaps kick some sense and joy back into the game?
Football observers are mocking that Mr Lim recently spend five weeks in the South Korean capital for a junior FIFA tournament when in his more than 15 years at FAS, he seldom comes to watch a S-League or NFL match. Yet at a recent closed-door meeting, he reportedly promised affiliated clubs that “I will take over the NFL”, much to the disbelief of club officials because Mr Lim was never known to be a grassroots personality, who goes down to ground to have a sensible feeling of the real heartland situation.
But, behind all the behind-the-scenes dramas, the louder-than-loud whispers is there is still something rotten in the FAS headquarters – probably quite a lot wrong if this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are also alleged reports of off-the-field misbehaviour, when the Singapore teams are overseas, from smoking, gambling, late night-outs and uncensored movies.
And that’s why the hushed-up ‘Code of Conduct’ statute to council members, staff, players and even volunteers.
Matters on and off the field have not changed the last two months. The coffeeshop chats from Bukit Batok to Bedok and Tampines to Toa Payoh is that the state of Made-in-Singapore football is close to its doldrums from the iconic Lions downwards to the S-League, Prime League and even the NFL, right to the grassroots. And it’s high time for more than a kiss-of-life to transform Singapore’s struggling football scene.
LACK OF LEADERSHIP
A NFL club secretary from a mid-table Division One club says: “I believe there must be transparency in action and sincerity in dealing from grassroots right up to technical level. We are waiting for the new team to show as they get nearing to the 100 days in office.
“I’m hope they be frank and faithful, only then there will be new self-respect in adherence and allegiance to their new ways of management. Beside the much-desired improvement to NFL, I am eagerly waiting for the other positive news. Or else I have to say I will be disappointed.”
A former FAS Council Member, who served two terms, asks: “Would anyone want to live in a house full of angry relatives expressing their opinions and not having the numbers to achieve a settlement? Such is the present state at Jalan Besar Stadium, where there appears to be no leadership at the top, from the President to the General Secretary, who must positively lead the way.
He adds: “No wonder it is in a state of turmoil. Its time of discontent is sure to cause self-destruction, unless concerned football fans pull their heads in and stop the internal yappings in public. The FAS Council cannot be full of obstructionists, as frustration has unsettled the staff and volunteers, many of whom can foresee their exit. No wonder the media finds it difficult to give the Lim Kia Tong team, over two months, any credit for whatever work done, not even naming the respective sub-committees after 11 weeks in office.”
Even the most vocal “Mouth of the North”, as Mr R. Vengadasalam of ex-Woodlands Wellington is nicknamed, has repeatedly moaned about a scarcity of football-hearted personalities speaking up: “A lot of people don’t speak up in Singapore, which is a bad thing. I always tell people that whatever news you create is important for football in Singapore. The good, the bad, the ugly – it doesn’t matter,” he said in a recent interview.
His longer-term vision is to see a “change is that everybody in FAS, and the new FAS, must be allowed to speak their minds”. He explains: “As long as they stay within the rules of the game, they must be able to speak. Now, coaches go out and they don’t speak, the minute they say something too daring, they’re called up.
“But you must allow this excitement of speech to be there in sports, so that the truth can help us make improvements. I’ve told my team this as well and I believe they can.”
FOCUS OF ATTENTION
Ironically, Mr Vengadasalam is now one of the focuses of attention as FAS staffers say he’s seeking a full-time post at FAS, possibly as Head (Development) National Football League (NFL) despite his acrimonious past with police reports against him for alleged financial mishandlings in a number of FAS-affiliated clubs.
NFL Division One Kaki Bukit Sports Club President Muhammad Zaki bin Ma’arof, a Director with Yama Medical Supplies, pointed out to the importance of “winning over the grassroots clubs and the National Football League, which have been ignored and neglected for so long”.
He adds: “We want to see their blue-prints to a new look to NFL so that there will be renewed faith and loyalty. NFL clubs are all willing to share any matters which include the setbacks FAS undergoing.
“But they’ve been sitting, remaining silent for close to three months, dopey and doubtful on their action-plans. It has left a lot of clubs feeble-minded. It’s worrying and disappointing. It seems like not progressing.”
Another major concern, according to some FAS staff, is the pulling-of-ranks by the newly-minted management. It is learnt it reached a high-point last month when a FAS Council Member was given a written warning for his unsavoury off-the-field behaviour with a FAS referee.
Tongues are also wagging that a string of high-end resignations may well be on the cards, starting with the heart-beat at FAS, the Competitions Department, which manages the S-League, Prime League and National Football League (NFL), which has been “leaderless” in recent weeks. Since Lim Chin (resigned) and Kok Wai Leong (prolonged medical leave) are out of the line-up, there has been reported internal strife, leading to the latest resignation of Head, Competitions, Adrian Chan – the third highest-ranking Competitions Department official.
A senior staff who left recently sent me this SMS: “I suppose I’ve only got myself to blame. For a brief moment, I deluded myself into believing that the new FAS regime actually encouraged tolerance and the questioning of orthodoxies through intellectual exploration, freedom of thought and speech. How silly of me!”
Football observer Ramli Hassan from Ang Mo Kio says: “Perhaps it’s time to look outward instead, and notice that the football electorate is sick of those with personal agendas. We should stop blindly supporting groups or individuals who don’t believe in the longer-term goal to clean up the sport.
“The world has moved on, Asean football has fired up in many ways and Singapore is clearly lagging behind from the Lions to the age-group teams, who continue to get severely tripped in regional tournaments. Somebody must find an answer to stop this.”
Lee Shoon Hoe from Chua Chu Kang said the football-hearted public must speak up. He says: “The social media and the internet repeatedly expose the incompetence and stupidity of sports politicians of all kinds and at some point someone will recognise that adversarial politics is pointless and breeds the extremes that prevent sensible compromise, collaboration or progress. It’s time to get everyone with a football heart to reconsider how the FAS is conducted. Definitely, the model is outdated and broken.”
Silence is not always golden, FAS. There must be freedom of speech, allowing for feedback for ways to improve the organisation and even for whistle-blowers to report serious allegations of improper behaviour and/or administration.
Come on, let’s play ball: Creating an “element of fear” with stern orders that anyone who squeals risk facing the boot is definitely not a step in right direction. It may well be unsporting in a democratic playing field, especially when public perception of FAS is perhaps at its lowest.
Never turn a ‘blind eye’ to sincere reforms. It starts by encouraging everyone to speak up to find serious and sincere ways to lift the organisation, internally and internationally.
For the record, the FAS did not respond to The Independent’s queries by press time.