Football: Radical plans put forward to save Singapore’s ailing S.League
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Football: Radical plans put forward to save Singapore’s ailing S.League

RADICAL plans to revamp Singapore’s ailing S.League – including reorganising clubs along geographical lines and attracting new corporate money – have been put forward.

Three Football Association of Singapore (FAS) executive committee members – president Lim Kia Tong, deputy president Bernard Tan and vice-president Edwin Tong – discussed the plans in a round-table session for The Straits Times.

The headline points from the discussion centred on a major overhaul for the stumbling S.League, including significant efforts to attract new money from Government-linked companies (GLCs).

The cash-starved league has only twice sent teams to the group stage of AFC Champions League, while the national team is currently ranked 169th of 206 teams in the world.

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That is way below its best-ever performance of 73rd in the rankings back in 1993, and only two places above its worst mark, from October last year.

One idea that has been ruled out is the league losing its professional status.

“If we decide to go semi-pro or amateur, it will sound the death knell for Singapore football,” said Lim. “We won’t have a strong national team.”

Tong added: “One of the ideas is to pair the clubs with certain boundaries. (One example is) the political boundaries. It is probably the only way Singapore is formally cut up into different regions. We might want to leverage on that, pair them up with some of the CDCs (Community Development Councils).”

This season’s S.League includes nine clubs, two of whom (Brunei DPMM and Japan’s Albirex Niigata) have foreign origins. The perennial strugglers, Garena Young Lions, are effectively the national under-23 team.

One big change Lim is hoping to see is the arrival of new commercial deals, which have allowed clubs in South Korea’s K League and Japan’s J League to thrive.

“When we look at the Korean and Japanese leagues, we see major commercial stakeholders playing their part,” he said.

“It’s about time the major commercial people in Singapore put some of their money, under their (Corporate Social Responsibility), into the local clubs.”

Samsung, Hyundai, Toyota and Mitsubishi back teams in those leagues. And, while the FAS acknowledges that the S.League remains some way off being an attractive product, the executive committee is determined to drag the league into the 21st century.

Tan has suggested midweek television shows would help create interest in the S.League, and is determined to see change.

“We don’t want to go back (to the same problems), we don’t want to go round in circle,” he said. “It has taken us 21 years to see the lessons, certainly we want to see an outcome this time.”

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