THE element of a gracious society appears to be fading away in Singapore’s No 1 sport, football.
The nation-building sport is going down the drain because of a few self-centered egoistic leaders, who just don’t know the meaning of sportsmanship and gamesmanship.
Indeed, red cards must start flying if the mud-slinging rhetorics have to be stopped, by hook or crook.
I’m reminded of how Grace Fu, the unofficial Minister for Sports, last year spoke of how “kindness builds a caring society” with the words that a “successful country should be one that is defined by how we treat one another, the values that we represent, and how we treat the less fortunate and needy among us”.
She particularly noted: “A successful society is where each Singaporean feels responsible and committed to other Singaporeans.”
But hours after the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) announced the date for the much-delayed elections on Saturday morning at 9.16am, the ungracious reverse happened as the main candidates from the incumbents had their horns disgracefully up with the mud-slinging, going right up to tsunami-ways.
It’s official: The FAS Congress will be held at the Sport Singapore Auditorium at the Singapore Sports Hub on April 29, with voting commencing at 11am on the day.
Two teams have declared their intention to contest at the polls – a group led by FAS provisional council president Lim Kia Tong, backed by former Tampines Rovers chairman Teo Hock Seng; and another behind Hougang United chairman Bill Ng, including current Tampines chief Krishna Ramachandra.
Perhaps the most disgraceful act of video-campaigning started with Lim (President of the FAS Transitional Council) and “Godfather” Hock Seng, jealously self-proclaiming to be “men with integrity”, doing a widely-circulated clip where they distinctly disparaged potential rivals to the verge of libelous.
Never has this happened in the 125-year history of the FAS. Never have there been such back-biting, washing dirty linen in public and depreciation in football spirits, misrepresentation of personal and professional characters that, from the first day of electioneering, this mud-racking will smear the reputation of Singapore’s No 1 sport.
In The Straits Times video which was posted on YouTube and Facebook on Saturday, the first “black eye” was struck when the “Godfather” smeared that while Bill Ng’s team may have “a big manifesto”, it needs to be asked whether the Hougang United chairman and businessman has “a hidden agenda coming to football”.
In the scandalous video, lawyer Lim followed up on Teo’s remarks by saying: “… I will echo what he says, that in order for any team or anyone to bring football forward, this person and the team, each and every one of them, must have integrity and the belief that they come here not for ulterior purposes.”
Integrity, Lim Kia Tong? What is the definition of football integrity, in your books?
I will cut you down by saying one component of integrity is not coming to watch a single S-League match the past few years and suddenly saying last month that you intend to head the National Football League (NFL), simply because there are 24 votes there from the selfish taking.
Lim further misrepresented in the video: “If for one moment, we turn our attention to Bill – we have to ask ourselves, is he of the same mould as all of us in this team, or is he in the mould of someone who is only interested to gain some mileage?”
Is this the NFL mileage you’re talking about, Lim, with slime and slam written all over your face, even though you’re the No 2 man in the FIFA Disciplinary Committee? Is this how Singapore’s only FIFA ambassador backbites and backstabs the footballing fraternity in his country?
Later in the video that lasted for more than four minutes, Lim said of Ng’s reported desire to lift Singapore football and bring back the Kallang Roar: “…talk is very cheap, realising the talk is very expensive.”
He added: “So we need men with integrity like Teo here, like myself, like the other members who will be revealed to you, to drive the game, to drive it with passion, with a lot of guts and gumption to bring it to another level.”
Lim must know that football morale among the grassroots is low and detraction, depreciation and even defamation words will only further divide the fraternity. Let’s stop the lies and libels and scandalous talk and if there are specific facts, especially with regards to questionable integrity or knowledge of any agenda, they should show evidence of it, or risk being judged slanderous with their defamatory comments.
Character assassination should never be the name of Singapore’s football game, especially hitting below the belt very unsportingly without proof.
Corporate lawyer Krishna Ramachandra, who is President of Tampines Rovers, shook his head over Lim’s rhetorics and rightly said: “An apology is due immediately before it gets out of hand. Honestly, those gentlemen went down in my estimation. I will nevertheless give them the benefit of doubt and say it was uncharacteristic of them.
“However, it was unnecessary especially to single out someone and casts aspersions on that person’s character. This is not a partisan view – I say this with complete respect for the process involved in any competition – but battle must be done in a dignified manner.”
Krishna’s appeal was clear and concise: Those who have not delivered the goods at national level should step aside for the “greater good” of Singapore football. Election campaigning must be done with ‘respect’, ‘common courtesy’ and ‘good faith’.
Following Grace Fu’s passionate call for a gracious society, Krishna likewise emphasised the seven-letter word: Respect.
He added: “Please, I urge everyone involved in the upcoming elections, not only THS (Teo Hock Seng) and LKT (Lim Kia Tong), to all – including the armchair critics out there – respect your fellow Singaporean, respect the volunteers who have stepped forward to be counted and conduct proceedings with respect and exercising common courtesy and good faith.
“After all, in the end we all need to work together post elections. It should not be a zero sum game. We must embrace all volunteers.”
FALLING FOOTBALL FRATERNITY
End of the day, a falling Singapore “bola” fraternity must be rescued. Never have football been at the lowest and you cannot blame God for the failures. Those who have held office in recent years must touch their hearts, hold their heads and use the raised hands to hand over the baton to a refreshing team.
If I’ve to use (national coach) V. Sundramoorthy as a poignant example. If he fails or falls over three or four matches, what happens? In the football heartbeat, he has to give way, not continue to stand for re-election, simply because his time is probably up.
My ultimate fear is really that the football families from Choa Chu Kang to Changi, Tampines and Toa Payoh, will suffer from the pre-election hostilities because of the personal egos of some of the candidates. More good volunteers will also be put off stepping up by the lack of camaraderie in service.
As Minister Grace Fu, with the official political title as Minister for Culture, Community and Youth & Leader of the House, says: “Today, in our very fast-paced lives, as we glue our faces to our mobile phones or digital devices, we focus on ourselves and sometimes we risk not thinking about the needs of others. As a result, our indifference may sometimes leave people with needs unnoticed; our quick, of-the cuff remarks may inadvertently hurt others; our rush to our destinations may sometimes cause inconvenience to others.”
As the lead politician for a “gracious society”, she advocates the unmistakable call to remind us to make graciousness our norm. To be aware of our roles in building a caring society.
She adds: “We, every one of us, must take the initiative. Every kind act, no matter how small, has the potential to make a great impact. And when you receive kindness, or when you witness act of kindness, affirm it, encourage it. It will create a virtuous cycle of kindness.integrity is not what you call yourself, it’s up to others to describe about you.”
Graciously, I appeal to the FAS election candidates: Let’s stop, for football’s sake, the abuse and gossip, the lies and slander must go on the sidelines. It’s time for praise and encouragement, to know each other’s personal and professional setbacks in order to re-build Singapore football, clearly in the quicksand.
Even in the hallowed chambers of Parliament, there have been calls for concurrence, consent and confederation so that, in the final context, Singapore football prevails without division, dissension and discord.
Remember, amidst the greenery our little island is globally famous for, even the great oak tree is beautiful, gold and red and orange in the autumn, but one cannot ignore the deep, deep roots that made it so.
To Lim Kia Tong and Bill Ng, I reiterate that Singapore football, as the oldest affiliate of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) demands sportsmanship. It has been that way since its inception.
Sportsmanship is more than the footballer or fan shaking hands at the end of a match. It begins and ends as most things in life do, with the leaders setting the very best of examples. And most of all remembering, if there is nothing nice to say…say nothing at all.
As the electioneering goes to the heartland clubs, more than half who have never voted for over 30 years, let there also be gamesmanship, too. There are proper situations and channels to air grievances. All issues must be brought directly to the coordinators and those in charge.
In football, we may agree, we may agree to disagree, but we should never erode the team values with juvenile, middle school behaviour, especially from the leadership. We are all volunteers with the future generation’s best interests at heart and snark has no place.
At the final whistle, sportsmanship, above everything else, with Minister Grace Fu’s heart-endearing touch of kindness and graciousness, must prevail until the big FAS day on April 29 comes.
Please, for God’s sake, the element of a gracious society must prevail Singapore’s No 1 sport, football.
Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist with football expertise over four decades in FAS matters.