HATS off to veteran sportswoman Annabel Pennefather, who intends to show that she can kick footballs in male-dominated fields the right way.
Big-hearted women in top leadership roles in football, let alone sports, are as rare as diamonds. When a woman goes beyond her boundaries and attempts to take up professions that males have set foot on, she takes risks and works with courage, she is bold.
Being bold can change the world. When a woman turns bold, then the perspective of society changes – the old society turns into a modern society and the status of women become equal to men. In the process, there is absolutely no gender discrimination.
That precisely sums up corporate sports lawyer Annabel Pennefather, who is set to be the rousing rose among the football thorns as she bravely stands for election to be a Vice President of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS).
Some critics recently tried to run down the expertise of women, with no football experience, putting on the jerseys. And it instantly brought a thumping red-card-like response from Annabel, who pinched the ears of the gripers by drawing an example to FIFA (the world footballing controlling body) appointing Fatma Samoura, a Senegalese United Nations diplomat, as its first female secretary general last May.
“Samoura’s appointment by the FIFA President is globally significant. It is a classic case in point of a distinguished woman from outside the football scene who can be a breath of fresh air, in what is usually seen as a male-dominated sports,” says Annabel, who together with sports-medicine specialist Dr Teoh Chin Sim form a high-powered two-women combination in the “Game Changers”, which will be contesting the FAS elections, under the leadership of Bill Ng.
The 68-year-old corporate sports lawyer at leading firm Withers KhattarWong adds: “That is exactly what Dr Teoh and I believe we can bring to the game: A fresh wind and new perspectives. In particular, I want to bring my sports administration and legal expertise to the table and to the ground to serve our footballers of both genders, and I believe that together with the Game Changers, we can make a meaningful and positive difference.”
She slammed another knockout blow at the whiners by rightly stating that she’s the “most experienced of any candidate” in the upcoming Football Association of Singapore (FAS) elections.
THE FIRST TRADEMARK
Being first is a continuing hallmark for the globally-famous Annabel, who is currently a Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) Vice President and also a member of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Ethics Commission plus deputy president of the International Hockey Federation’s Judicial Commission.
The former national hockey player became the Singapore Hockey Federation’s first female president in 2004. She was also the first local female Chef de Mission (CDM) for an Olympic Games the same year.
“I probably have the most experience of any candidate who’s going to be in the FAS elections in terms of local NSA (national sports association) administration,” she says. “Overall, I see myself contributing especially at governance level, because I’m very familiar with how NSAs are run.”
Bringing a broad range of experience and perspectives, the senior consultant and head of the sports law practice at law firm Withers Khattar Wong, hopes to inject a fresh momentum into Singapore’s football landscape.
She says: “Having women involved…can only help to strengthen the decisions that are made because we also approach things from different perspectives, and maybe bring different values to the table.”
While she listed women’s football as an area she could particularly help contribute to if elected, Annabel also highlighted various other issues she hopes to help tackle. These range from promoting participation rates at grassroots and schools level, dealing with national service for male players, engaging spectators and getting them to fill stadiums again, and building winning national teams.
Literally from the cradle, she’s been a sporting die-hard as her grandfather, Lancelot Maurice Pennefather, won four Malaya Cups for Singapore between 1922 and 1928. Her father, Percy Milton Pennefather, captained Singapore’s men’s hockey team at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and mother was also a national hockey player and excelled in badminton, too.
Annabel is truly a football fanatic. A Manchester United supporter who has been to three World Cups, the 2004 ‘Her World’ Woman of the Year also keeps a close eye on the local scene and hopes to see the Lions become “more competitive” in future.
She says: “For me, if our national teams start to perform better, then it is definitely going to be more inspiring to the younger generation to start (playing) and keep at it. That means a stronger focus on high-performance planning and everything (else) that goes with it — that is very critical.”
A regionally-recognised sporting leader, she was Chef de Mission at the Commonwealth Games (2002, 2010), Olympic Games (2004), Asian Games (2006) and SEA Games (2013)
Her biggest dream for Singapore football: “To achieve a level of performance that will once again ignite tremendous excitement amongst Singaporeans to support our teams whether it be in filling stadiums to watch and cheer them on or cheering them from big screens and small screens alike around Singapore and taking us all roaring into a new era of football.”
Annabel is very proud of the “Game Changers”, giving the thumbs-up to an extraordinary team spirit, under the leadership of Bill Ng (Chairman of Hougang United).
CLASS FOOTBALL ACT
She says: “It’s truly a team effort, working with sports-hearted people who share the same vision and ideas. The ‘Game Changers’ are a class football act.”
Speaking out loud and clear will be one of her personal mantras. She adds: “I hope to be able to contribute on all fronts. If I can add to the conversation or discussion, I will. I always speak out. My parents and grandparents were all active sportspeople, and sport has been very much a part of my DNA. I just want to help whenever I can…that’s how I’ve always approached my sport involvement.”
For Bill Ng, convincing two world-class women candidates to his team in high-profile positions as Vice Presidents is “simply mind blowing and I’ve complete faith that they can change the football ecosystem”.
He says: “This may be unorthodox, but we believe in bringing fresh perspectives, hearts, and minds, like Annabel and Dr Teoh, to the team. I’m sure that they can contribute to Singapore football in an electrifying way.
“The perception that only football people can serve football’ is a relic. In today’s modern sporting era, we need a combination of expertise, open minds, clear vision and communication to bring our ‘Beautiful Game’ roaring into the new era.”
‘Game Changers’ is led by iconic businessman Bill Ng and the refreshing alternative team of 15 football-hearted personalities will be contesting the FAS elections on April 29 at the SportsHub.