Singapore’s football power struggle: Decoding the FAS election

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Football in the Lion City could be set for some big changes come the end of the month as the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) is set to hold the first election in its 125-year history.

The election will be held to choose members of its council on April 29. Previously all holders of office were appointed by the government.

Two teams are vying for control of the FAS. Each team consists of a ‘slate’ of nine people that will fill the various positions on the council, including President, Vice-Presidents, and council members. Fourteen other individual candidates will contest six council member positions.

A total of 44 affiliates are eligible to vote in the election. They include S.League clubs, and smaller clubs from the National Football League (NFL), and the Women’s Premier League, among others.

The teams:

Team LKT
Very much the establishment team, Team LKT is headed by current provisional council president of the FAS Lim Kia Tong. Lim, a lawyer by trade, has been with the association in a number of positions since 1992 and has also held various roles at the AFC and FIFA during that time.

Team LKT is filled with current members of the FAS setup and given their long association with the current power structures within the game in Singapore, should they win it will likely be business as usual for the association, although Lim has promised to be more consultative in future when making decisions about Singapore’s national sport.

Game Changers
Led by Bill Ng, chairman of S. League club Hougang United, the Game Changers have billed themselves as the team to shake things up in Singapore football and make the break from those who they say have dragged the game down in recent years.

Ng, is a merger and acquisition specialist, who has made turning struggling local football clubs into money making machines something of a speciality.

He has been successful, first at Tiong Bahru FC (where he took over in 2009) and later at Sengkang-Punggol, who were rebranded Hougang United, although his methods are controversial as the main revenue streams are derived from legalised gaming.

Hougang is often held up as an example for other S.League clubs as they have invested heavily in infrastructure and are the only club to refuse the annual subsidy of $800,000 that other S.League clubs rely on to survive. Critics say that financial success has not been translated into success on the pitch.

The Controversy
Things were running relatively smoothly until a couple of weeks ago when Ng questioned the FAS about what had happened to a $500,000 donation he made through his clubs back in 2014.

The allegations started a huge game of “he-said, she said,” but what can be deciphered from the whole mess is that the money went to the Asian Football Federation (AFF) to support the development of its “Football Management System.”

To further complicate matters, the police then raided the premises of Tiong Bahru, Hougang United, and the FAS for evidence into allegations raised by the government body responsible for sports, Sport Singapore, that Ng’s club Tiong Bahru was suspected of misusing funds and obstructing an audit of S.League clubs until after the election.

The recent accusations are in danger of overshadowing the election, which to date is still scheduled for April 29, and taking the focus off what is at stake – ultimately the chance of a fresh start for Singapore football.