Here we go again. And, truly, I wish the Football Association of Singapore well with its ambitious Unleash The Roar project to get Singapore into the FIFA World Cup 2034 finals. You may wonder why 2034. For those who are not aware, Thailand, according to reports, will be leading a joint bid with Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam to host the 2034 event. The move was agreed on at the fifth Asean Ministerial Meeting on Sports in Manila on October 9, 2019. That may well be the impetus for Unleash The Roar which was, well, unleashed onto Singaporeans in Parliament on March 8. Can you imagine Singapore in the finals. Singapore and Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam or Malaysia? Fantastic.
The FAS has couched the whole thing as “an aspirational goal”, having been burnt somewhat by the previous “Goal 2010” campaign. I can’t remember whether that campaign was also an aspirational goal except that everyone sounded so serious about it. But we know what happened to that effort. Apparently, aspirational-ising the Roar makes it less of another let-down should we fail again.
What has been discouraging so far to local soccer fans was that the FAS – and together with it, the whole soccer scene – seemed to have gotten into a rut (long before Covid-19 cruelly emptied the venues). Hardly anyone followed what was going on. Meanwhile, the SportsHub, which was surely built for soccer crowds in mind besides whatever other types of mass events, continued to be a massive white elephant.
Having something aspirational may be better than twiddling one’s thumb while waiting for miracles to happen, or offering all sorts of excuses like lack of talent, the attitudes of soccer players, distractions of other activities and poor spectator support.
The FAS’ plan seems to be: Use the Singapore Premier League as the platform to groom our soccer players some of whom will then ply their trade abroad, where they will hopefully develop faster and be part of a much stronger national team on recall. Sounds like a virtuous cycle.
Not a bad idea.
Better pay, if you are a talented player. Faster development if you get exposed in a stronger league. Players are motivated – to play their best for the chance of getting selected to play abroad or simply wanting to be as good as these returnees. Everything is dynamic and both the SPL and the national team should benefit.
I like it that the FAS and the government are discussing how to work out the national service issue. I have never seen this as a complication. In the past NS-liable national sportsmen used to be treated as supernumeraries. They had to complete their basic and all other necessary training, the same as other NSmen. But they were given time off to train for their sports, representing their units. I doubt Singaporeans would object if our top soccer players today had time off, after their basic training, to represent their country which they would see as a form of NS anyway. True-blue NS-serving Singaporeans and their families are not against such sportsmen. What they dislike are parents and their sons who want to game the system, thinking they can get away with it and figuratively spit in the face of other Singaporeans.
There is only one not small problem with Unleash The Roar. The pool from which local talents can be drawn is not big. Is the FAS also looking beyond the island at the Singaporean diaspora abroad or tapping foreign talent under any kind of arrangement approved by FIFA? Even then, there are limits.
The scheme to have a strong local team is unsustainable if a large majority of Chinese parents continue to discourage their sons from playing soccer. In fact, Chinese parents are not all that keen on seeing their children “waste” time and energy on activities other than those which promise a respectable living or career. It’s all about money and status. Of course, there will always be exceptions. But, if most are not keen, there is a clear hurdle to the FAS’ goal.
Also, why are Chinese not so successful in soccer? Compared to China, South Korea and Japan are no pushovers in the world soccer scene. So, my question is: whatever happened to the Chinese (in China)? It is not as if they do not have players who are physically tall (and can head balls successfully). And they have their soccer leagues. But they never took off. In fact, other than in soccer, a recognisably world sport, the PRCs are more than anyone’s equal in many other sports.
Except in basketball, are Chinese not good at all in team sports? By extension, are Chinese Singaporeans of similar ilk?
It will be tough for Singapore if only non-Chinese Singaporeans like Malays are the ones playing soccer. They are only 15 per cent (545,000) compared to 76 per cent Chinese (3,006,000). The size of the talent pool counts.
Noble and achievable aspirations are worthy of support, and I hope the FAS has the answers to silence the doubters who are not innumerable. From where is the FAS going to get all these talents to bring us to World Cup 2034? Otherwise, all that has just been announced is just another pipe dream leading soccer fans to nowhere in particular.
Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.
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