Silence not golden, FAS, it’s time to speak up

From embarrassing age-group defeats to awful FIFA rankings and possible funding cuts, it’s one horror headline after another. So where’s the official response? FAS folks not helping themselves by staying silent, argues Neil Humphreys...

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Singapore football appears to be playing a perverse game of poker with itself, a kind of masochistic race to the bottom.

It’s hard not to picture Football Association of Singapore (FAS) blazers sitting in a darkened, smoky room and raising the stakes of incompetence at every turn.

Imagine the dialogue …

Imagine the dialogue FAS members have...

A: I’ll take your under-15 defeat against Laos, a nation previously used for shooting practice, and raise you an under-23 loss against India, a nation that believes balls should connect with bats, not boots …

B: Ha, I’ll see your India embarrassment and raise you a tumble of 12 places in the FIFA rankings to hit a humbling 169th, below Malaysia and Myanmar.

At this point, the game appears done and dusted. Bloodshot eyes dart across the table, assuming that the high-stakes battle of abject misery has reached its nadir.

And then, in the darkness, a throat is cleared and a mountain of chips is slowly pushed across the table.

C: Er … I’ll see your slide down the Fifa standings and I’ll raise you an 8-0 loss against Australia in the under-15s. Yes, that’s 8-0. And I’ll also throw in Sport Singapore’s threat to withhold FAS funding.

And with that, it’s a full house of bumbling decay.

The room falls silent. And the silence remains, it endures, irritating journalists and punters alike, as the FAS seem reluctant to speak about such matters.

If ever the FAS Council members needed to reveal their hand, it’s now, to reassure both the public and Sport Singapore that taxpayer dollars are being invested prudently.

The new FAS council is struggling to contend with a brave new social media world, where even the future of the Lee family home is a matter of rigorous public debate

Hold a press conference. Answer media enquiries. Allow FAS members to offer their side of the story when a reporter calls. Unveil a master plan. Unveil a plan of any kind. Say something. Say anything.

The silence is no longer golden. It’s actually self-harming.

In the old days, when key council positions were appointed from within government, the FAS spoke as and when they wanted and the media listened.

The public grumbled about the Lions’ lamentable attempts to qualify for the 2010 World Cup and so forth, but the relevant parties largely went about their business in a controlled, generally benign environment.

But the new FAS council is struggling to contend with a brave new social media world, where even the future of the Lee family home is a matter of rigorous public debate, let alone the future of Singapore football.

What kind of a future lies in wait for the Singapore national team?

If the general public demand answers of the Lee siblings, then they're hardly going to hesitate in demanding an explanation for why Singapore's young footballers can't beat Laos and India.

Yet the FAS seem to be clinging to the quaint notion that no news is better than bad news or misinterpreted news. But the silent treatment is not really an option anymore.

Saying nothing suggests that there may be something to hide or, more worryingly perhaps, the FAS really have nothing to say

As soon as the results of the April 29 elections were rubber-stamped, FAS officials ceased to be government-appointed. They became elected representatives. They answered to the voters.

The trouble is they’re not answering.

According to recent reports, Sport Singapore is withholding funding and perhaps considering reduced funding for next season’s S.League.

But the FAS did not respond to media enquiries. The ‘say nothing’ approach, in the faint hope that a thorny issue might blow over, is not only dated, it’s now construed negatively in the hysterical, conspiratorial age of 'fake news'.

The FAS councils need to speak up

Saying nothing suggests that there may be something to hide or, more worryingly perhaps, the FAS really have nothing to say.

After three months, a grand announcement of a blueprint, some sort of 10-point plan to address the current malaise or just a press conference to discuss the alarming run of recent setbacks would be more than in order.

But nothing much has happened, leaving too many awkward questions unanswered.

When will FAS technical director Michel Sablon's revolution start bearing fruit?

FAS technical director Michel Sablon has already focused on a standardised coaching template across all age groups, adapting his successful Belgian model, but when will the revolution start bearing fruit?

The under-15s are now losing to teams that were previously brushed aside. The Laotians were once seen as a guaranteed three points in any regional tournament. Laos may now feel the same way about Singapore.

The A.League is a full decade younger than the S.League and its youth academy model continues to be questioned Down Under. An argument persists that the A.League still doesn’t incubate kids of the calibre of Mark Viduka or Harry Kewell, unlike its predecessor the National Soccer League.

And yet, the Aussie Under-15s have just demolished Singapore’s young Cubs 8-0.

If the A.League youth academies aren’t entirely impressing Aussie sceptics, what does that say about Singapore’s quality standards?

Singapore has no real talent coming through at the junior level

And what are we doing about the sensitive ‘70 per cent problem’?

According to the FAS website, only three members of the 23 teenagers in the under-15 squad are Chinese, two of whom are goalkeepers.

Only one outfield player represents the racial majority of his country.

Wasn’t the coaching revolution going to address the elephant in the room that most stakeholders refuse to talk about? Are plans being formulated with FAS and, say, Sport Singapore and the Ministry of Education to address the racial taboo that will always stop the Lions from succeeding?

Elsewhere, how can Singapore utilise its first-world status and tax dollars to leapfrog developing nations like Myanmar in the FIFA standings? Are FAS doing enough with the funding? Do they need more? Does the Government care enough about its national sport?

Even Myanmar has been tough to beat in recent years

Should it be a source of shame that a football nation like Singapore now loses to a cricket nation like India?

These are all valid questions that deserve an FAS response.

And that’s all they are, legitimate concerns about a struggling sport. They’re not booby traps designed to ‘get’ anyone in authority.

But as long as the FAS maintain the perception of a paranoid silence, they miss the most pertinent point of all.

They should welcome the queries and answer them, regularly and transparently.

Public demands for greater success and accountability mean, at the very least, that there is still public interest in the national sport.

The FAS should appreciate that interest, no matter how passionate or vitriolic, because when the questions stop, the game dies.

Photos: FAS