By: Suresh Nair
SOMETIMES the whistle or a bell makes a loud creaking sound, most times you can feel the uneasy rattles on and off the field to let you know your footballing time is up and it’s probably the right time to give way.
That’s exactly the predicament at the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), which is crying out for fresh thinking and a new leader. Hopefully, (President) Zainudin Nordin and his team must get the signal loud and clear from the grassroots.
The much delayed FAS elections have been pushed to more than football’s version of extra-time, even with an unconfirmed constitutional change, because FIFA had made it clear that political office-bearers or those appointed by the government (as has been done for more than 30 years) must stay out of office.
The murmurs coming from well-placed elected-executive sources at FIFA headquarters in Zurich and AFC capital in Kuala Lumpur this week has not been positive. The general term used for the FAS is “disappointing”, by both executive members in FIFA and AFC, with no dates fixed for the FAS Congress, to democratically vote in a new team by the 46 affiliated clubs.
FAS, as Asia’s oldest affiliate among 46 countries, turn 125 years next year. Once ranked as a paragon for transparency, governance and democracy, a role-model of football sorts, is now rated as lowly as its FIFA ranking of 171 (out of 211 global affiliates). This is the worst-ever mark, six places below the previous low point of No 165, which came in June 2013 under (German coach) Bernd Stange.
The degeneration (or lowest-ever down) is primarily because it has struggled to put its headquarters at Jalan Besar Stadium in good order, with a much delayed EOGM now set for November 7 and no date for the formal election of new democratic office-bearers.
“Singapore used to be very good in three key areas of football governance: Transparency and public communication, checks and balances and solidarity,” said a senior Asean Football Federation (AFF) delegate, who asked not to be named. “But Singapore has flopped in recent times and its regional image has taken a very big beating.
“We, in Asean and Asia, usually view affiliate-associations by the way they run their ‘home’ or their ‘backyard’ and FAS has not set the right examples, in recent months as a compatible role model.”
DATE FOR CONGRESS
Informed AFC exco-member sources say FAS has been ordered to come up with an appropriate date for the FAS Congress at the EOGM on November 7. The term of the incumbents end on November 15 but FIFA has grudgingly extended it to March 31, a longer grace of time, usually given to fractious affiliates with internal organisational problems.
Another senior AFC source, who requested to stay anonymous, said: “We’re very concerned with what’s happening in Singapore especially with an FIFA Deputy Disciplinary Committee Chairman (Lim Kia Tong), AFC Vice President (Winston Lee) and a FIFA Executive Member-candidate (Zainudin Nordin), who should set the right examples by spiritedly going by the book and holding proper elections.
“Asia is watching and rather dismayed by the much-delayed elections and the unhappiness among the club affiliates. We’re now unfavourably looking at Singapore as a problematic affiliate.”
He said FAS scored poorly in international relations, too, because of its failure to observe solidarity in regional football, like not playing the “bola” game in the sportsmanship way off the field of play. The FAS floundered miserably with a freak 42-1 vote at last month’s AFC Extraordinary Congress in Goa, India. Singapore’s solitary revolutionary vote was a shocker of sorts and sternly viewed by Asian members as an unmistakable vote against the spirit of Asian and/or Asean solidarity.
Asian newspapers reported that (the outgoing FAS President) Zainudin Nordin had assertedly shot himself in the foot, with the lone negative vote. Even along the closed corridors of Jalan Besar Stadium, many wonder if he had acted singularly or with the tacit approval of the FAS Council. Or even with the Asean Football Federation (AFF), wherein all the Asean delegates voted for a harmonious AFC protest against FIFA, except for Singapore.
It is learnt Sport Singapore, a statutory board of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), and other decision making government agencies have expressed reservations over the FAS vote in Goa. MCCY Minister Grace Fu was quoted as saying: “We have no role to play in this episode. We were not consulted neither do we wish to be consulted. This is an FAS issue, the FAS takes its own decision.”
Sport Singapore Chief Executive Officer Lim Teck Yin added in the same report in the leading English newspaper, The Straits Times: “It is not my role to advise the FAS president on how he should or should not vote in an AFC vote, in matters pertaining to FIFA. What’s at play there is probably a lot more complex than what we can currently understand. It’s best left to see how the dynamics evolve, and we’ll manage that accordingly.”
IMAGE OF DRIFTER?
A long-standing Middle East delegate admitted that the growing groundswell is that Singapore risk being a “drifter” in future AFC deliberations because of its “astonishing vote against the majority”.
“It’s unbelievable to see Singapore acting alone against Asian solidarity,” said a senior Gulf delegate, who preferred not to be named. “This is not in the good spirit of gamesmanship to try and be a one-man ‘Rambo’ against the united AFC cause when we wanted to let FIFA know that we stand in solidarity after FIFA disqualified (Qatar Vice President) Saoud Aziz Al-Mohannadi in running for a spot in the council.”
Another senior delegate from Asean, who also spoke on anonymity, said: “We were just shaking our heads when only Singapore voted contrary to a powerful AFC stand. Now, I think Singapore may be treated as a castaway in the AFC fraternity because they appear not to believe in a continental team spirit.”
After Goa’s suspended meeting, it is learnt another AFC Extraordinary Congress will be called early next year, possibly in Kuala Lumpur. Nominations for the three FIFA Executive Member posts will be re-opened, probably end of the year. But one penalty is almost certain: It would be wise for Zainudin Nordin or any FAS delegate to withdraw from contesting.
“It’s a certainty. Forty-two AFC delegates will almost definitely vote against any Singapore candidate because of Zainudin Nordin’s decision not to play ball in solidarity with AFC spirit,” said a top-ranking official from South Asia, which represents countries in the Indian sub-continent.
If FAS is not aware of the hard truth, the reality is that football is about solidarity and global unity, on the regional stage. As much as in the local heartlands, where the unanimous support of the 46 affiliates are crucial to govern the FAS headquarters over the next four years.
A former national coach pleaded with Zainudin not to be “thick skinned”, and added that the new FAS team must get their internal act in order, rather than seek for external positions in the AFF, AFC or FIFA.
“Trying to mow a neighbour’s lawn while he (Zainudin) don’t even know how long the lalang (long grass, in Malay) has grown in his own backyard,” the former coach wrote over social media, in appealing for FAS to sort out its inherent problems before going for international positions.
The immediate target of the new team must be to make the FAS organisation more efficient and transparent and add to its public prestige, internally and internationally. No more one-man or two-man shows but getting consensus from an elected council to lift the sagging image of Singapore football.
INTERNAL HOUSE IN ORDER
Most important, no more the “problem boy” image as FIFA and AFC now envisage FAS. It’s time to wake up and get the internal house in order. It calls for passionate people with big hearts for football, prepared to play over extra-time, and even into sudden death penalty kicks, in order to bolster football as the true jewel of Singapore sports.
The FAS has surely now passed that point of last resort. It is time to begin, through democratic polls and legislation, the slow process of eliminating the bureaucratic secrecy that breeds prolonged recklessness in the beautiful game, says Mr Alim Omar, team manager of NFL (National Football League) club Siglap FC.
He says: “The recent dialogue sessions have shown the FAS to be arrogant, complacent, and to have taken the lower-rung clubs and fans for granted. It is inexcusable that while there is broad consensus on the need for a step change in transparency and accountability, the FAS have yet to deliver any serious progress.”
Transparency is the biggest key in good football governance, says Mr Alfred Dodwell, a lawyer and legal adviser to (IslandWide League club) Gymkhana FC, who will be contesting the FAS elections.
“The upcoming democratic polls, for the first time in more than three decades, must pave the way for a refreshing facelift for Singapore football,” he adds. “It’s high time we bring long overdue welcome change, for the internal and international image of Singapore football, so that we can hold our heads high as Asia’s oldest AFC affiliate, going on 125 years with a big smile on every footballer’s face.”
Now’s the ripe time to pass the baton. Now’s the moment for new faces to come in and clear the uneasy rattles on and off the field.
Yes, for the better of Singapore and Asian football, it’s right time to give way and start with no more time-wasting or much-delayed show-boating. Let’s confirm the constitutional change and get on with the democratic election show, without fear, favour or friendship.
Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist who has covered football for more than three decades and knows that the six-letter word ‘change’ is mandatory at the FAS Jalan Besar Stadium headquarters.