Football

No CEO for S.League in 2018?

No CEO for S.League in 2018?
The new FAS Council is conducting a review of the S.League, and looking into whether the competition needs to have its own CEO. TODAY FILE PHOTO
New FAS Council considering scrapping post as part of review of professional domestic league
Published: 8:35 PM, May 20, 2017
Updated: 12:50 AM, May 22, 2017

SINGAPORE — The S.League might not have a chief executive officer (CEO) from next season.

That is an option the new Football Association of Singapore (FAS) council is seriously considering as it embarks on a review of Singapore’s only professional sports league, two weeks after being voted into power, on April 29.

The S.League, established in 1996, is currently without a CEO.

Mr Lim Chin, who took on the role in 2012, stepped down in March. The S.League’s director of operations, Mr Kok Wai Leong, is taking charge of the league on an interim basis.

However, he is on medical leave as he recovers from heart surgery.

The search for a new CEO was expected to start after the new FAS council took office.

However, president Lim Kia Tong had hinted that during the post-victory press conference that it might not happen and vice-president Edwin Tong has since confirmed that the need for such a post is being considered as part of a “holistic root-and-branch” review.

“It is something that is part of the process, in the same way that we will review the competition’s structure, (such as) how many clubs and so on,” he told TODAY, adding that the FAS’ competitions department is helping to oversee the league at the moment.

He said that FAS could appoint another S.League CEO or it could “run the S.League through the current set-up of the FAS”.

Mr Lim had explained previously that such a move would allow the competition to be more integrated with the FAS. He added that his personal preference is not to have a “separate arm” in charge of the league.

“It may well be better to assimilate so that some of the functions can be integrated and co-shared,” said Mr Tong, who is a partner at law firm Allen & Gledhill.

“For example, we can leverage off the current FAS financial function to oversee the S.League’s finances and investment.

“At the end of the day, we are not that big a country and a league, so I think it makes sense for the national FA to oversee it directly.”

This would be a first, if it were to happen, as there has been a CEO in charge of every season since the league began.

UNCOMMON PRACTICE

However, doing without a CEO would be an uncommon practice, as most football leagues around the world have such a position, said former Singapore international R Sasikumar, managing director of sports marketing agency Red Card.

“Decisions have to be made on a daily and sometimes hourly basis, so it could be a challenge,” he told TODAY, citing the example of the recently launched Philippines Football League, which he helped to set up.

Noting how Mr Edwin Gastanes, the general secretary of the Philippines Football Federation, had to run things before a CEO was found, Mr Sasikumar said: “He was more of a governance guy and needed to look after football development in terms of the whole country, not just the league.

“So it took a toll on him until the CEO was appointed and the workload was sort of divided. Now, we seem to be making a lot more progress, because we’ve got specific people in specific roles.”

Former FAS deputy director for planning and development Benjamin Tan, who is now the deputy CEO of the Thai Premier League, and oversees its day-to-day operations, told TODAY: “The best practices are (usually) having the FA and league as separate entities, as each has its own roles and objectives, as well as other commercial commitments. This is especially when you have different properties and broadcasting rights to sell to potential sponsors and the issue of distribution (of revenue) to clubs.”

But both acknowledged it would be better to reserve judgment until the FAS reveals more of its plans, with the review still in its early stages.

“It could be a good start for FAS to have more control over the league until it’s more established,” Mr Tan noted. “Operations will also be more efficient and effective since they would be under the same body.”

The review of the S.League is being undertaken by new vice-presidents Teo Hock Seng and S Thavaneson. 

Mr Teo was Tampines Rovers chairman for 15 years before stepping down in 2015, while Mr Thavaneson is the long-serving chairman of Balestier Khalsa.

THREE-YEAR PLAN

Mr Teo stressed that the CEO is just one of many things that are being looked at, with the overriding aim being to ensure the viability of the league.

“We have to refine a lot of elements of the league, not just S.League but also the NFL (National Football League),” he said. “We have to find an integration …  the NFL has been left out of the equation in the past. We have to see S.League in a more practical perspective … more importantly, (with) promotion and relegation.

“These principles on structure are quite important first. Second is the money element. We have to ensure prudence and accountability of how this league is going to be run.”

According to FAS accounts, the S.League gets S$16 million out of the Tote Board’s annual funding of S$24 million for football.

Mr Teo added that the FAS is open to engaging external consultants for views as it seeks to make the league a “good product”.

“We just got into office, so this will be a 2018 to 2021 situation,” said the managing director of Komoco Motors.

“In other words, we have a three-year plan … Time is not in our favour (until next season starts) and we have to prioritise (this review) … we have to make sure that it’s going to be done.”

Albirex Niigata general manager Koh Mui Tee agreed that it is more important to have a long-term plan. 

He said: “The council has to set the (right) direction for the S.League  … and execute the plan. Finding the right person to implement the plan is more important than whether there’s a CEO.”

Mr Sasikumar said it is imperative that those involved in making decisions involving the league have the ability to think critically.

“I think domestic football still has a lot of legs … my wish is that whoever comes in looks at things on a nano-level — then it will start making a 
difference.”
 
PAST S.LEAGUE CEOS BY SEASONS:
1996 – 1997: Douglas Moore

1998 – 2002: Chris Chan

2003 – 2004: Chan King Fook

2005: How See Yong

2006 – 2011: Winston Lee

2012 – 2017: Lim Chin