Singapore football must buck up in ‘CLAS’

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By Suresh Nair

WHY is there no ‘CLAS’ in Singapore football?

CLAS simply means Club Licensing Administrative System (CLAS), modelled after the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) guidelines which all AFC affiliates are mandated to follow, from the professional to amateur leagues.

In the farce of Wednesday’s walkout at the crucial National Football League (NFL) match at Jalan Besar Stadium, with Yishun Sentek Mariners winning the Division One title on the plate, it’s high time for the Chairman of the NFL to buck up on the rules and regulations, governing league football.

For the record, there was no honour in the Yishun Sentek triumph as their rival, Katong FC, rather surprisingly, conceded a walkover, in the final match of the season, because they didn’t have sufficient players at the 7.30pm kick-off.

Now back to the more critical CLAS issue.

Just take a leaf from your neighbour, FAS: Across the Causeway this week, the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM), starting from the 2018 season, has made it compulsory for every team in the Liga Super Malaysia to have a licence to play in the league, or else they are relegated.

To obtain a licence, teams must be financially healthy and meet certain standards of conduct as football-worthy organisations. As part of the privation effort for the league, all clubs compete in Liga Super Malaysia and Liga Premier Malaysia have to obtain FAM Club Licensing.

STRICT ON LICENCE RULES

“We’re very strict on the licence rules, no hanky panky for clubs running the show in any haphazard manner,” says a senior FAM official. “Felda United and Sarawak have not been granted a licence, for failure to fulfill one of the requirements of the application: Finances. Apart from finances, Malaysian clubs need to fulfill five other requirements:  Infrastructure, personnel administration, business, legal and sporting.”

Plenty of incentives have also been lined up by the FAM with formal licencing in the top division:

  • A greater share of television broadcast licence revenues goes to Liga Super Malaysia sides.
  • Greater exposure through television and higher attendance levels helps Liga Super Malaysia teams attract the most lucrative sponsorships.
  • Liga Super Malaysia teams develop substantial financial muscle through the combination of television and gate revenues, sponsorships and marketing of their team brands. This allows them to attract and retain skilled players from domestic and international sources and to construct first-class stadium facilities.

I seriously wonder why the FAS, after running the S-League for 22 years, never thought of formal licensing for the affiliated clubs, even in the troublesome NFL, which is the second echelon to the S-League.

A FAM spokesman says awarding of the licence in Malaysia is based on FAM’s club licensing regulations that have been jointly developed with FMLLP, in-line with AFC’s guidelines. Football Malaysia LLP, also known as Football Malaysia Limited Liability Partnership (FMLLP) was created in the course of privatisation of the Malaysian football league system.

“This year Malaysian football became the witness to the concept of Club Licensing for clubs under FAM to participate in AFC Club Competitions,” he adds. “Taking into account the nation’s maiden participation in the AFC Champions League Playoff for the 2015 season through Johor Darul Ta’zim FC, a concept driven by the AFC Club Licensing Rules and Regulations was implemented fully.”

CLUB LICENSING DEPARTMENT

With regards on the same regulations, FAM established independent decision making bodies known as the First Instance Body and Appeals Body that would function as an assessment body and the issuer of the license. These two bodies are composed of members that meet the requirements and conditions set by the AFC Club Licensing Regulations mainly within the field of finance and legal.

At the administration level, a Club Licensing Department was formed at FAM to ensure all administration and management related to club licensing will be enabled to perform nationwide.

As a preliminary preparation towards the privatisation of the league, a National Club Licensing Regulation is being created with the hope of it being enforced throughout the top national leagues fully by 2018.

In line with this process, a special seminar on Club Licensing Process was held in July 2014 with the full participation of all the teams taking part in the Malaysian League campaign.

DETERIORATING STANDARDS

Back to the FAS: After Wednesday’s farcical NFL match, die-hard fans just started to shake their heads in disbelief at the deteriorating standards of domestic football – not to mention the Lions at a miserable 170th position, one of the lowest ever, in FIFA ranking.

Sajeev Kurup from Dover Road says: “Wonder what’s happening. A lot of promises were made from the April FAS elections but now the nation’s most loved sport is below the ‘longkang’. If this is not embarrassing to a sport, at one time, like a religion in our tiny island, how can this happen? Shame, shame, shame!”

Former Tampines Rovers president in the 1970s and 80s and vociferous ex-FAS council member George Pasqual says: “It looks like Singapore football is falling into a talispin of mismanagement and into obscurity.”

Beware of the dangerous virus which is bringing down the football system, warns former Home United honorary general secretary Muhammad Azni.

He says: “This is a serious virus now in existent within our system. We will never get back to 100 per cent as the virus remains. In a nutshell, we need real competent people to join the football leadership. People who have been noted to raise club standards in professionalism and styles of management. We can’t go into areas where it’s proven to be a failure.”

GOOD MANAGEMENT NEEDED

He appealed to the FAS President: “(Lim) Kia Tong should approach those who are proven as serious minded and results-oriented management people. They’ve led clubs to successes, provided good standards of management and planted good values into their club management.

“These people are out there. The need to be spotted or considered for the task force to look into Singapore soccer…not for tomorrow but for the next five, 10, 15, 20 and 25 years down the road.”

A former FAS senior staff with more than a decade experience at the Jalan Besar Stadium headquarters, says: “It’s a sham. There must be a more professional way to run the NFL, which is the grassroots league at national level with 24 affiliated clubs playing. More than half of the FAS affiliates, mind you. I would put this down to very weak management at FAS, who don’t take the NFL seriously.”

This isn’t the first time an anti-climax finish happened in the NFL, says schoolteacher Ruslan Anwar, from Pasir Ris. “The FAS is paying the big price for not being tough enough in ensuring rules are properly followed and disciplinary action taken against the errant players and clubs,” he says.

“The Yishun Sentek-SAFSA free-for-all on November 12 at Jalan Besar Stadium was an ugly advertisement for heartlander football. It was beamed through social media to a worldwide audience. I expected FAS to take immediate action but the prolonged delay in calling for an inquiry is very disappointing.”

Perhaps that could one of the reasons, say NFL insiders, to why Katong FC didn’t want to field a team of 11 players on the final day of the season as they’re disgruntled with the standard of overall discipline in the NFL.

Best advice for the FAS: Let’s start tightening the rules-belt. Get back to proper licencing to control the quality of the affiliated clubs, the CLAS-way.

There must be proper law and order in running the national league, professional or amateur, with the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) guidelines which all AFC affiliates are mandated to follow.

Let’s get back to the basics to avert another farcical climax like Wednesday at Jalan Besar Stadium when the curtains to the 2017 NFL season came down in a disgraceful way with an unprecedented walkover in the final match.

Please, no more farce at the FAS.

Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist who has covered FAS matters over the past four decades. He was on the inaugural management board of Tampines Rovers when the S-League started in 1996.

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