Thank you, FIFA
The People’s Action Party’s long association with the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) now seems to have come to a sad end.
This is in light of news, 25 April, that its last-appointed President of the FAS – former Mayor and former PAP Member of Parliament, Zainuddin Nordin – is under police investigation and is currently out on bail.
Also out on bail are the owner of Tiong Bahru Football Club, Bill Ng; his wife, Bonnie Wong; and Winston Lee, former general-secretary of the FAS.
The probe by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) is believed to be related to the suspected misuse of club funds at the Tiong Bahru Football Club, and an attempt to obstruct audits into several clubs.
Besides the clubhouse of Tiong Bahru, the CAD has also raided those of Hougang United and Woodlands Wellington. The FAS office itself at Jalan Besar Stadium was also paid a visit by investigators last week.
The whole saga exploded into the public spotlight after remarks by Bill Ng, one of the candidates contesting the president’s position in the ongoing FAS elections, which raised questions about a $500,000 donation by Mr Ng’s Tiong Bahru Football Club to the Asean Football Federation (AFF), allegedly made through the FAS.
The knowledge of such a donation, however, has been denied by former FAS council members, several of whom are also running in the elections. They claim that they were unaware of the funds.
“It (the donation) was never revealed to the rest of the council, and certainly never discussed at council meetings,” said Ben Tan, a former vice-president of the FAS.
Whatever the outcome of the CAD investigation, one thing is for sure: the PAP’s hand in football has finally – some feel thankfully – come to an end.
Since Singapore’s Independence in 1965, the head of the FAS has always been a government appointee, whether a civil servant, a magistrate, a minister or an MP.
The government’s power to appoint council members was hardwired into the constitution of the FAS which, incidentally, is the oldest football association in Asia, having been established in 1892.
Article 19.3 of the FAS Constitution, circa 2015, states:
“All Council Members shall be appointed by the Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports [MCYS] in his discretion and shall, unless otherwise decided by the Minister, hold office for a period of two years.”
The MCYS has since been renamed the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY).
The Minister also has power to extend the term of office of council members beyond the minimum two years.
The current saga in the FAS came about when, in 2015, the world governing body for football, FIFA, stepped in and informed the FAS that its practice of having government appointees to head the association was in breach of FIFA’s Statutes.
Article 14.1(i) of the Statutes states that members are “to manage their affairs independently and ensure that their own affairs are not influenced by any third parties in accordance with article 19 of these Statutes.”
“Third parties” refers to governments or political influence.
Failure to adhere to these stipulations could result in member countries being banned from international competition, for example, as Indonesia currently is.
It was this intervention by FIFA which led to a review and subsequently a change in the FAS constitution to require council members to be elected by affiliates. This in turn sparked the current saga, and the inquiry into the financial ongoings in the FAS.
But it is Singapore’s football itself which interest the fans, long-suffering ones undoubtedly, as they see the collapse of the sport here amidst the plunging standards and international ranking of their national team.
The pathetic state of the game, especially during the last 17 years (1999-2016) when the FAS was continuously headed by PAP MPs, has destroyed whatever little faith fans have in the management of the sport. And some had started to call for politicians to not be involved in the FAS, a call which the government ignored entirely until FIFA intervened in 2015.
While the possible financial mismanagement in the FAS is a serious matter to look into, there should also be questions asked of the government, in particular the ministries of the MCYS and the MCCY, on why it had repeatedly appointed PAP politicians to head the FAS in spite of the falling standards and world ranking of our national team.
If FIFA had not intervened in 2015, it is believed that another PAP MP, Edwin Tong, a vice-president in the last council, would have been appointed to head the association. Mr Tong is, in fact, in the LKT Team which is contesting for council seats. (See here.)
Indeed, it is more than just standards and ranking which have suffered, but also the very state of football at every level in Singapore which has.
It was revealed several months ago that the FAS had spent a mere $70,000 on supporting grassroots football, while it paid its own top executives millions over several terms in charge.
The FAS later claimed that the amount spent on grassroots football was actually some $250,000. Still, this is a pathetic sum, if we are serious about the sport. We were also told that the LionsXii, a team we created to participate in the Malaysian Super League, needed $200,000 in sponsorship in order to take part in the competition.
What happened to all the funding from the Tote Board which is given to the FAS each year? How was the money spent? Is the MCCY looking into this? How was this money used to achieve stated goals? How successful was the FAS in doing so?
In 2010, the FAS came up with a set of goals for the following 5 years, one of which was for Singapore to be ranked among the top 10 nations in Asia for football by 2015.
We have come nowhere near achieving this.
It is a repeat of Goal 2010 which the FAS announced in 1998, for Singapore to get into the World Cup.
We failed miserably in that, coming nowhere even near achieving half of that.
We are currently ranked 159th in the world by FIFA, out of 206 countries.
With council members now having to be elected, Singaporeans hope that a new team, made up of passionate football lovers and not those with agendas to raise their own regional and international profile for personal gain, will take the helm and steer us back to our glory days.
The PAP or government’s association with football has now come to a sorry end with its last appointee under police investigation and currently out on bail.
Now the game here has an opportunity to start anew, and be managed by people whose only focus is football, and not politics.
And if Singapore football rises from the ashes, we have FIFA to thank – for stepping in and helping us clean up the game.
A history of political influence in Singapore football
There have been 7 PAP MPs (highlighted in bold) who had been appointed FAS president or chairman since Independence.
1968: Woon Wah Siang – Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Culture
1968-1971: Lenny Rodrigo – MP Serangoon Garden
1971-1974: FAS under management of the National Sports Promotion Board (later, Singapore Sports Council)
1974-1976: RBI Pates, former Magistrate
1976-1982: N Ganesan, former Magistrate
1982-1988: Teo Chong Tee – MP, Changi
1988-1991: Abbas Abu Amin, MP Pasir Panjang
1991-1994: Hsu Tse-Kwang, former Commissioner, Inland Revenue Authority; Comptroller of Income Tax; ambassador to Poland.
1994 – 1999: Ibrahim Othman, MP Thomson
1999-2004: Mah Bow Tan, Minister & MP, Tampines
2004-2009: Ho Peng Kee, Minister of State, MP NeeSoon East
2009-2016: Zainuddin Nordin, Mayor & MP Bishan-Toa Payoh
**Headline photo: Straits Times