By Suresh Nair
FINALLY, “there’s a lot of smoke” when it comes to the upcoming Football Association of Singapore (FAS) meeting next Saturday but the football fraternity insists “there’s no fire.”
No smoke, no fire?
But the major English newspapers have stroked the flames when one team contender announced on Wednesday that they’ve the grassroots clubs from the National Football League (NFL) and Island Wide League (IWL) in their pockets as they shared their vision and plan for Singapore football.
Presenting a 34-page plan titled “For the betterment of Singapore football”, they intend to go for the heartland votes and focus on local teams and develop a sustainable football ecosystem for Singapore starting from the grassroots.
But I wonder, what about the Lions and the S-League, who’re the main flag-bearers on the international front?
And the first name presented as a lead candidate is unexplored lawyer Alfred Dodwell, whose best media credentials were in recently defending controversial teenage blogger Amos Yee, rather than having his real feet in the current football quicksands.
But Dodwell being the legal-beaver, wants to go by the book. For the quick record, he’s Managing Director of Dodwell & Co LLC, and a senior member of the bar in Singapore, having practised as a litigation lawyer since 1996.
He wants to first tighten the constitutional amendments and, for starters, advocate changes to the proposed FAS constitutional amendment, which requires nine of the 15 council members to be voted in as a team, and six members to be elected individually.
“Overall we think the constitution is fine, fair and well done, but there is one particular point that I hope they can amend,” Dodwell told TODAY newspaper. “We hope they will include three more individual members in the council. This will ensure a healthy and equal footing within the council. If not, we could see a situation where the slate of nine could fail to heed the six individuals when making decisions in future as they will always.”
SPADES IN GROUND
The Dodwell Team appears to be putting their spades deep in the ground because, for the first time in over four decades, the 46 FAS-affiliated clubs will cast the vote, thrashing aside an age-old tradition of government-appointed personalities to run the FAS.
Yes, ultimately, the proof is in the pudding, as the saying goes, and any Ahmad, Ah Kong, Ramasamy or Michael will say the present FAS incumbents have not fully delivered the goods. It’s rip-roaring time for a change and those council members, who ever hardly come for the regular meetings or watch the S-League matches, must go.
Even a baby in a football cradle is crying out for fresh FAS faces and, in my opinion, it’s long overdue for refreshing sincere-minded candidates to take over the leadership at the Jalan Besar Stadium headquarters.
Whether it’s the Dodwell Team, or a power-packed slate under (Hougang United president) Bill Ng or another unnamed entity, they have to convince the grassroots that political interferences are gone, as ordered by FIFA (the world football controlling body), and they’re the real alternative and the best substitute, with the fiery fire in the belly.
My fear is that with the prolonged football in-fighting, the sport may well be the loser. The Tote Board & SportSingapore, who control the financial kitty, may not sustain the record-whopping $26million they’re throwing to the FAS every 12 months, unless they see veritable law and order along the Jalan Besar Stadium corridors and in the island-wide football pitches.
I wish to reiterate that there’s absolutely no room for “fly-by-night” candidates or team contenders and let it be vividly known that the government will only support, if you show that your serious-minded alternative team is worth the weight in gold and longer-term goals.
Discreetly, they’ve warned they’ve the discretion to withdraw any funding if they find the FAS in a topsy-turvy predicament, even after the year-end elections.
From a neutral stand-point, I’ve to put on record that the FAS incumbents, who have not delivered the goods or even come for regular council meetings, or worse still watch S-League matches, must pack their boots and bags and go.
Simply because they’ve failed to win the grassroots support. I lose count of the times I hear moans and groans that the FAS has lost touch with the fans, that it’s all about the money these days and that the game as we know it is lost forever, replaced by an imposter who only cares about commercial return.
The 21-year-old S-League barely draws decent crowds although some say the S-League is ranked among Asia’s top 10 professional leagues. The gap between the S-League and amateur clubs in the NFL have stretched marathon distances and rightly so, the lower-rung clubs are screaming that the FAS has seldom delivered on their aspirations, treating them almost like invalids and, now ironically, trying to woo them with last-gasp goodies to win their votes. (Doesn’t this smack like the Hougang political by-elections?).
The foundations of progress lie in a properly-sustained football pyramid. But we appear to be an inverted rojak-styled structure, for the moment. A new blueprint is urgently needed, with the famed Belgium technical director Michel Sablon in the frame, like a serious blood transfusion to save Singapore football.
Whoever comes in, they must invest money prudently, involving the grassroots community, bartering for sponsorship services with stakeholder businesses, providing every player with the best treatment off the pitch possible so that they give off their best on it, developing the next generation of elite footballers, investing time in print, broadcast and social media and most of all, doing it in a fair, ethical and honest way.
I know Alfred Dodwell well, his heart’s in the sport, possibly not fully the mind to appreciate the serious challenges ahead of him. I’ve told him I want to see in the Dodwell Team a “One Team Singapore” approach, where you look at the internal and international propositions to pragmatically position the Lions (national team) and the grassroots (neglected lower-rung clubs) on a positive framework for a positive future.
If he’s serious, he must start forming a value-add football team by getting worthy brand names of football minded personalities, who can genuinely fire overall morale. In a nutshell, those who can seriously and sincerely hold public confidence and bring the No 1 global sport out of the present rut.
Remember, whoever is contesting the upcoming FAS elections: This is not a game of cards. This is not “masak masak”. This is about real teamwork and serious strategy to find the winning formula, not with yesterday’s men but tomorrow’s honest and credible candidates, with a real determination to make the Lions roar, yet again.
- Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist with more than three decades of football experience. He has held, and continues to hold, differing posts at the FAS…and yes, he’s advocating for serious change.