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SEA Games football review: FAS has gotten off on wrong foot with panel

FAS announced that a panel has been formed to review the Young Lion’s performance at the SEA Games in Cambodia. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

SINGAPORE – Already weary from the national Under-22s’ disastrous showing at the SEA Games and the subsequent backlash, the football fraternity was hit by another issue over the weekend.

On Saturday, Football Association of Singapore (FAS) acting president Bernard Tan announced that a panel has been formed to review the Young Lion’s performance at the recently-concluded Games in Cambodia.

He said the panel comprising former national coach Jita Singh and FAS council members Razali Saad, Lim Tong Hai and Harman Ali will be given four weeks to conduct the review. Their report will then be discussed in-house for two weeks, after which recommendations will be released publicly.

Tan also noted that the Young Lions will not participate in any international tournaments until the completion of the review, the implementation of the findings and when the authorities assess the team to be at a competitive level.

These developments have raised eyebrows and questions.

Firstly, Tan did not address how the panel was selected, as well as why it is largely made up of FAS council members. Despite pledging earlier that FAS “has always been open to engagement with stakeholders” and that “tough questions will be asked... and we will do this openly”, it remains to be seen if this was the case.

The only man among the quartet who is not from the FAS is Singh, a decorated coach. But the veteran’s success was in the 1980s when he led the Lions to the 1980 Malaysia Cup and SEA Games silver medals in 1983 and 1989 with senior teams.

After various postings, he returned to join the FAS in 2007 as head of grassroots development, and until 2014 oversaw other areas such as the now-defunct National Football Academy as well as club and junior centres of excellence. In the past 15 years, Singapore football has seen a sharp decline.

If the FAS truly wanted an independent critical analysis, there are sufficient internal and external options.

Why is its technical director Michael Browne not part of the panel? What about the likes of former Malaysia technical director and current Balestier Khalsa coach Peter de Roo, as well as home heroes and youth football experts who have gone through or worked in the system such as Kadir Yahaya, R. Sasikumar and Hariss Harun?

In The Straits Times’ analysis of what could be done to salvage the situation, most of the observers suggested getting the right people in for the right job.

After parachuting in Philippe Aw to coach the Young Lions and then giving him “time off” after the dreadful SEA Games campaign, it seems like the FAS has gotten off on the wrong foot again with the composition of its review panel.

The announcement of the Young Lions’ international competition suspension is equally baffling.

By Tan’s estimate, it would not take more than two months before the review recommendations are shared with the public. On a side note, we are still waiting for the review findings of the senior team’s Asean Football Federation Championship campaign that ended in early January.

This means these could be revealed in July, before the earliest international assignments for the Young Lions – the Under-23 Asian Cup qualifiers and Asian Games from September to October – kick off.

If they are allowed to play, the suspension would be moot as there are no tournaments during that period. If they don’t, then the FAS will appear to be punishing the team.

The national sports association could also be accused of not being a team player in the larger picture.

In a nod to national football project Unleash the Roar! (UTR), the Singapore National Olympic Council had approved the Young Lions’ selection for the upcoming Asian Games after excluding them from the 2018 edition as they had not met the sixth-placed benchmark from the previous Asiad.

Their selection is a show of solidarity to convince various stakeholders, especially aspiring footballers and their parents, that here is support from the authorities who are aligned with UTR and that football is a career worth pursuing.

The suspension not only leaves the Under-23 Asian Cup qualifiers and Asian Games participation hanging in the balance, but also undermines the work that FAS has done in identifying young talents for the various national age group teams.

Singapore football is hurting and rather than divide the fraternity with such decisions, the FAS and Tan must listen to its stakeholders and move forward together.