Team LKT does not have a blank cheque

Sense And Nonsense - by Tan Bah Bah

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Lim Kia Tong, Picture Credit: Suresh Nair's Facebook

Congratulations to Team LKT for winning the FAS elections.  They have got what the new FAS President Lim Kia Tong described as their magic target of 30 out of the 44 affiliates who cast their votes on Saturday. That is a strong mandate. But it is certainly not a blank cheque. Not by any means.

The creditable 13 votes garnered by Bill Ng’s opposing Game Changers in a hard fought battle shows one thing. It is that the new FAS team will have to be unreservedly and sincerely inclusive if they want to carry the ground in their plans to get Singapore soccer out of its current mess and dismal depths. There are people more than ready to take over should Lim’s team stumble.

Team LKT has other sets of numbers to think about now, for a start.

One is 159.

This is Singapore’s miserable standing in the latest FIFA rankings (it was 171 one or two tears ago and we were 75 once upon a time). The Philippines, one time perennial whipping boy of regional soccer, is at 127 – some 32 slots above us. Cape Verde, off the north-west coast of Africa, and which has a population of only 500,000, is at 82, a whopping 77 slots above Singapore.  It is no consolation that Brunei (188), Laos (174) and Cambodia (173) are ranked below us.

The other sets of numbers would be 900 and 2,000.  These are supposed to be the average crowd sizes hovering around in the last few years for S-League and other local matches. I am not even sure about these numbers because I have seen practically empty stadiums at many matches. And I say average because I have been told there were sometime more officials and friends and relatives of teams, officials and sponsors at some of these matches.

This brings us to one last important number – the current under-representation of non-Malay Singaporeans in local soccer.

No matter how you look at it, our undoubtedly soccer-talented Malays – and Indians –  cannot be expected to be the only flag-bearers for Singapore soccer. Thirteen per cent (Malays) plus 9 per cent (Indians) of a 5 million population leaves a huge 70 plus per cent untapped pool. The FAS cannot do much with such a small football playing base.

This state of NATO (no action, talk only) on the part of the majority of Singaporeans is not because of the lack of interest or money. Just ask the man in the street whether he can name any member of the Singapore first XI or even the national coach.  I do not think he can. But if you ask him to name a world soccer super star, he would readily rattle off the names of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.  Of course, we cannot compare these gentlemen with players who ply their skills in humble Hougang or Jalan Besar.

But the fact is that Singapore soccer stars were once household names. Young Singaporeans wanted to be like them. Fans and even those not that keen on soccer knew who these people were. So it is not impossible to get more soccer fans and players on board – again.

The FAS have to try and change the whole soccer eco-system.

Take steady and realistic steps. Downplay grandiose schemes of being Asian kingpins. Times have changed.  Even Thailand, consistently the best in the region and whose soccer fans are just as fanatic as any around the world, keep getting whacked by the likes of the Japanese, Korean and Middle East teams.

Just bring the crowds back at the local level first. Get more families interested in having their sons play the game.

And the money to pull our soccer – the only national game with the potential to bring millions of Singaporeans together, much more so than swimming or ping pong  – back on its feet and running? There is a lot of talk about the FAS’ “large” $35.8 million operating cost and the $25 million funding from the Tote Board.

As someone once said, that’s peanuts –  compared to the $387 million spent on the utterly forgettable 2010 YOG or the $150 million for the circus called F1.

Go, Jo

Josephine Teo’s promotion to full minister as Minister in the PMO highlights another case of under-representation. There are still relatively too few women in politics and certainly at the top decision-making level.

So congrats to her too.

We have not progressed all that much since the days of Seow Peck Leng, Ho Puay Choo, Chan Choy Siong, Dixie Tan, Aline Wong, Seet Ai Mee and Yu-Foo Yee Shoon.  That I can still count and actually name these politicians prove the point that having WP’s Sylvia Lim (and Lee Li Lian until her exit) and all the too few PAP female MPs around is not quite enough.  We do not want our women to just come into Parliament as NMPs and just talk, we want them to be on the ground to work for and represent a community, and to bring their own perspectives at Cabinet level when they do get the opportunity.

Sense And Nonsense is a weekly series. Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.

 

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