By: Suresh Nair

SINGAPORE by-elections at the vacant Bukit Batok political ward are over. Now regional eyes are on a much-delayed sporting election at the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), which is set over the next three months.

Politics has, ironically, been the central divider and FIFA (the world football-controlling body) has unreservedly demanded an end to political interference in the appointment of FAS council members. And democratic elections are mandatory, with the 50-odd affiliates picking the new leadership.

The price to pay is high: Non-compliance with FIFA rules would mean a similar fate as Indonesia, Kuwait and Benin, who were recently barred from participation in international competitions. (Indonesia’s ban was lifted last week after it met FIFA’s no-political-interference revisions)

It’s not been a bed of roses at the Jalan Besar headquarters. The FAS chief is traditionally an

elected member of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), for the past three decades. The FAS constitution states that all council members, including the president and deputy president, shall be appointed by a government minister and confirmed by voting at an annual general meeting.

AMEND CONSTITUTION

Caught in a tightrope situation to get out of the political quagmire, it is reliably learnt that the FAS may call, first, for an EOGM (Extraordinary General Meeting) next month to amend the constitution to prevent third-party interference and the right to select their own choice of leadership. And perhaps a few weeks later, a democratically-elected annual general meeting, according to FIFA’s wishes.

Also to be implemented, according to FIFA rules: A four-year term of office, up from two, as well as integrity checks on candidates, before the elections. This is for purposes of transparency and accountability.

For better or for worse, the election of the council members, through the election pathway, shall indeed be a new refreshing historical chapter in the history of the FAS, which, for the record, is the oldest affiliate of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), with its founding in 1892.

The current boss, former Member of Parliament Zainudin Nordin, who has held his post at the helm since April 2009, is reportedly not seeking re-election. The 52-year-old politician, a former Mayor of Central District, previously represented the Bishan-Toa Payoh Group Representation Constituency.

This leaves a very big poser, according to the footballing grassroots: Who will be the new No 1, without political connections? I’ve five top-end candidates in mind:

FIVE POSSIBLE CHOICES

The immediate name to pop up is current Vice President Lim Kia Tong, a respected lawyer with more than 36 years of practice, and currently the Deputy Chairman of the FIFA Disciplinary Committee.

Recognised as a no-nonsense sporting gentleman, the 63-year-old also heads the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) disciplinary committee. He has led disciplinary proceedings against former AFC president Mohamed Hammam, later banned over bribery allegations, linked to FIFA’s presidential election.

His plus points are his very strong links with FIFA and AFC. His minus points, probably a little too soft-spoken and with a lack of grassroots support from the affiliates.

My personal favourite, if he wants to come out of footballing retirement, is former national team manager Patrick Ang, who steered Geylang International to S-League glory in the late 1990s. He was the general manager when the Lions’ did a remarkable “double” in the 1994 Malaysia Cup triumph.

Under his stewardship, from the mid-1980s, Geylang have been one of the most efficient clubs in implementing the S-League’s key programmes related to youth development, grassroots football and community outreach. Apart from his portfolio at Geylang, Patrick has also contributed immensely to the promotion and development of Singapore football as a volunteer with the FAS and the national team for several years.

THE ‘GODFATHER’

He was also the Chairperson of the Task Force which was established in 1995 to study the feasibility of setting up a professional football league in Singapore. And rightly so, over at the East Coast, he’s hailed as the “Godfather”.

Another new “heavyweight” who may throw his hat into the presidential ring, is Bill Ng, Chairman of Hougang United, who confesses “my specialty is mergers and acquisitions – rescuing companies in distress.”

A “who dares win” businessman, he’s unafraid to make unpopular decisions and always advocates a philosophy to think out of the box quickly. And if asked for advice, he always borrows Nike’s global slogan “Just Do It” and tells everyone to just believe in themselves.

Don’t immediately discount the candidature of FAS general secretary Winston Lee, who was elected as Vice President of the Asean Zone in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). He was among five vice-presidents elected during the 26th AFC Ordinary Congress at Manama, Bahrain, last May.

Even newly-elected AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa has high praise for the 48-year-old Singaporean: “Winston is a strategist and a highly-regarded administrator who commands great respect in the global football community. His experience will be invaluable to the AFC as we strive towards our goal of making Asia a superpower in football.”

Winston is also a member of FIFA Marketing and Television committee committee, advising the FIFA executive committee on matters pertaining to contracts between Fifa and its partners, as well as analysis of marketing and television strategies. He was the chief executive officer of the S.League from 2006 to 2012.

If Winston wants to seriously stand, obviously, he has to resign from his full-time post at the FAS, which some say, may just be a formality.

OUTSIDE CANDIDATE

Perhaps 44-year-old lawyer Krishna Ramachandra could be an outside candidate, too. He created more buzz in the S-League, since taking over five-time S-League champions Tampines Rovers, than the FAS could over the past few years, even bringing the AFC Cup pre-quarterfinal match against Selangor to the SportsHub, and drawing 11,875 fans. It’s the first time a S-League club has played at the new National Stadium.

But Krishna, who is the head of Duane Morris & Selvam’s Corporate Finance and Investment and Private Client Practice Groups, has vividly hinted that, in his debut season as a top football club boss, he prefers a low-profiled role at Tampines Rovers rather than at the helm of FAS.

Whoever comes to the fore, definitely without serious political connections, will have a very tall order at hand to lift the declining fortunes of the No 1 sport. More importantly, to ensure that there’s thorough efficiency and transparency in football administration at Jalan Besar Stadium, something which has been regularly frowned upon by the critics.

Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist, who has been involved with the FAS in various capacities, over the last three decades.