New controls over funds for FAS

New controls over funds for FAS
Football fans at an S League match. Starting this year, the Football Association of Singapore, which runs the S.League, will no longer get to control its own purse strings. Photo by Wee Teck Hian
Move could have been sparked by concerns about how football association has been managing its finances
Published: 10:05 PM, January 5, 2017
Updated: 12:28 PM, January 6, 2017

SINGAPORE — Starting this year, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) will no longer get to control its own purse strings. Instead, its annual grant of some S$25 million from the Tote Board for football development and the S.League will be administered by Sport Singapore (SportSG).

The move breaks away from a longstanding practice of allowing the FAS to manage its own coffers, a privilege which no other National Sports Association (NSA) enjoys.

The FAS has come under heavy criticism in recent times amid questions over the state of the sport, which is experiencing a season of change. For the first time in its 125-year history, the NSA will hold a democratic election of its office-bearers following a directive from world football governing body Fifa.

The move marks a break from the past when FAS council members were appointed by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (now known as the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth). It will also be looking for a new chief executive officer for the S.League after the resignation of current chief Lim Chin on Tuesday (Jan 3).

In previous years, the Tote Board — which manages grant-making activities from gaming surpluses generated by Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club — disbursed some S$25 million in grants directly to the FAS annually, with an estimated S$16 million going to the S.League. The remaining money was used for football development and programmes.

Each S.League club operates on a yearly budget of between S$1.2 million and S$1.5 million, with Tote Board’s annual subsidy contributing some S$800,000 to that amount.

On top of the Tote Board grant, the FAS also receives more than S$2 million in funding every year from SportSG as part of its annual NSA grant exercise. While the Tote Board’s money was previously channelled directly to the FAS, that will now be administered by SportSG instead.

Responding to queries from TODAY, SportSG’s Lenard Pattiselanno, who is its director of NSA Partnership, said: “Sport Singapore is pleased that Tote Board will continue to support FAS in their delivery of the strategic plan for football in the coming financial year. In line with our usual practice of managing funds for all NSAs, we will administer and oversee Tote Board’s grants allocated for football development as part of overall government funding for football.”

Responding to TODAY's queries late on Thursday (Jan 5) night, a FAS spokesman said: "It is correct that SportSG is now overseeing funding for the S.League. We have been in discussion with SportSG, and we will notify the clubs officially of the subsidy."

Industry observers and experts believe the move could have been sparked by concerns about how the FAS has been spending the money in recent years, and whether key performance indicators (KPIs) have been met for past grants disbursed for development and the S.League.

“The general sentiment is that there has been not enough focus on grassroots football, and too much emphasis on high performance,” said a former football official who declined to be named.

“This move also suggests the Tote Board has decided that it is not the right entity to look at the entire framework of Singapore football, and decide whether the various FAS programmes have been delivering. It probably feels that SportSG is the best middleman, and the right body with the proper expertise to scrutinise the framework.”

The move was welcomed by some in the fraternity, who cited the increased accountability and scrutiny as a way for local football to develop and move forward from yet another disappointing year of underperformance by the sport and its national teams.

They are also hopeful that more focus will be given to community outreach and grassroots football, which will in turn help produce more young talents for the various national teams.

“I agree with this new direction,” said Mr P Sivakumar, a former FAS deputy general secretary. "FAS now has to present its proposed comprehensive football programmes and activities including those of S.League, with the detailed proposed budget for funding support to one body. It’s more efficient ... previously we had to present to both Tote Board and SportSG. It was challenging.”

Added former international R Sasikumar, managing director of sports marketing firm Red Card: “It’s absolutely (a good move) and the way forward. I’m not saying the FAS is not transparent, but it is important that structures are put in place to see clearly where the money is going.”

Tampines Rovers chairman Krishna Ramachandra is hopeful that the change can help spark a lacklustre S.League to life. “I believe this additional layer of oversight is a good development,” he said.

“Perhaps it can uncover some blind spots within the FAS, create initiatives and impetus to look at other areas of utilisation of funding.”

However, some have cautioned that the move could create more administrative red tape and cash-flow issues that may hamper the operations and work of S.League clubs.

Mr Sasikumar believes a solution could be for the S.League to revert to its original status as a private entity — it started in 1996 as a private entity before merging with the FAS three years later.

“I think the S.League should deal with Tote Board, Singapore Pools directly, and be kept separate from the FAS,” he said. “That is the case in many countries such as the English Premier League and the English FA. These are the best practices around the world.”

A former football administrator, who did not want to be named, agreed: “Being an independent league will give leeway to the S.League to run itself as best as
it can.”