WHEN I learned that Yazeen Buhari will be returning to the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) next month, I smiled inside and out.
The wishes of the Singapore football are going to be answered with a new full-time boss, who is renowned for his endless energy, patience and professionalism.
In a nutshell, a “bola” gentleman with honesty and integrity.
If ever one football-hearted individual can advocate refreshing change, look no further than this 39-year-old Australian-trained sports graduate, who will be announced over the next few days by the FAS as the long-term replacement to Winston Lee.
Lee’s continued position as FAS general secretary has surprised even the AFC as he is under police probe and, on grounds of ethics, he should be made to step aside. Lee, 52, and three other individuals – Hougang United chairman Bill Ng and his wife Bonnie Wong, former FAS president Zainudin Nordin – were arrested in April after a police report lodged by Sport Singapore (SportSG) over the suspected misuse of funds at Tiong Bahru Football Club (TBFC), and an attempt by a senior club official to obstruct the completion of audits of the S-League’s sit-out clubs. They are assisting with the police probe, and are out on bail.
FAS staff at Jalan Besar Stadium say that “Winston definitely is psychologically affected by the investigations…and has not shown the right leadership with the emotional setback that he may be facing”.
Yazeen, as I know him, as a former FIFA referee, is a self-deprecating and honest fire-brand personality. A man and leader, as those of us who know him will readily attest, of impeccable integrity. Something that’s urgently needed to restore the global repute of the FAS.
It is reliably learnt that Yazeen has tendered his resignation at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) where he was leading the Strategic Planning Department. He was not available for comment.
In the wake of the staggering start to FAS, under newly-minted President Lim Kia Tong, who coming close to 100 days in office has not even named his sub-committee heads, what is needed to restore the leadership is the Yazeen Buhari-branded with decency, honesty and integrity. It is time for the football citizens to stand up and applaud at the long-overdue change.
Global repute must also be salvaged as FAS, as Asia’s oldest affiliate among 46 countries, celebrates 25 years this year. Once ranked as a paragon for transparency, governance and democracy, a regional role-model of football sorts, it’s going down the drain, rated as lowly as its FIFA ranking of 169 (out of 211 global affiliates).
Yazeen’s rousing reputation for change is well documented by SportsSG, the controlling body of Singapore sports. For 12 months in August 2014, he even spearheaded the Singapore Athletics (SA) secretariat as the General Manager. He has exhibited exemplary leadership skills and had been a good role model for the team.
SA President Tang Weng Fei remarked that “besides leading the secretariat to a successful SEA Games 2015, Yazeen has been involved greatly on the movement of our office to the Sports Hub, the establishment of our Home Of Athletics at Kallang Practice Track and the rebranding exercise of SAA”.
SA Head Coach, Portuguese-born Luis Filipe Cunha praised: “He is an active listener, is empathetic and creates a constructive atmosphere. Though his journey with us has ended, he will continue to be a friend to me and the association”.
At SportsSG, Yazeen, who pursued sports management studies in Perth, Australia, in 2003, and later earned a Master of Business Administration from the University of Western Australia, started as senior manager in the National Sports Associations Partnership department, which covers different sporting associations such as for football, sailing, rugby and basketball.
“Sports teach athletes discipline, leadership and even composure. Sports gave me ample platforms to pick myself up and have a better go at any challenges in front of me. This surely can be applied to other aspects of life,” he said in a Sunday Times interview in April 2014.
Certainly he’s fired up to lead football, too. In the same interview, he said that he is galvanised about the Government’s longer-term plans to give sports the biggest shot in the arm with the Singapore Sports Hub, which offers world-class sports programming and facilities, slated to open this year.
“With the system in place, opportunities and platforms for aspiring young athletes will become available like never before,” he noted. “Along with other exciting developments under Vision 2030, sports in Singapore will be taken to the next level.”
- Yazeen, a father of two little girls, is also keen to show them the positive and holistic influence of sports. And on official weekend sporting appointments, he is known to bring the family along, too. His Masters-graduated psychologist wife, Shahiraa, is a sporting inspiration, too.
He said: “When the going gets too tough to handle, I always remember my wife’s words that the fruits of my labour will be all worth it in the end. I have come to realise that work is not work when you enjoy it.”
Yes, Singapore football will have a very special person at the FAS very soon.
Now we hope he will be given the high and low ropes to lift and deliver the down-sliding sport his way – with absolute honest and integrity.