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Football, Singapore sports' prodigal son, needs to take a long hard look at itself, says sports minister Wong
Five years ago, Kadir Yahaya's Under-15 football squad at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG) proved that even kids could coax people out their homes and into stadiums.
A couple of years later Adam Swandi and Co. outgunned some of the best youth football academies in the world en route to third and second place in consecutive Lion City Cup tourneys in 2011 and 2012.
But, even with a nation behind them, and a squad supposedly peppered with some of the best talent - including Adam - Aide Iskandar's SEA Games squad fell flat, failing even to set foot in the National Stadium for the semi-finals.
Singapore was represented in 36 sports at the Games, and football was one of three - along with petanque and tennis - to fail to return with a medal.
It clearly needs to take a hard look at itself, says sports minister Lawrence Wong.
"My sense of it is that football needs a deep hard look at (its) broader ecosystem... (and) what are the objectives it is looking to achieve," said Mr Wong, the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, at a post-Games press conference yesterday.
Wong hit on a salient point.
From last year's AFF Suzuki Cup to the LionsXII campaign in Malaysia to the Courts Young Lions in the S.League, where the bulk of the Games squad honed their skills, it appeared that some players were fighting on multiple fronts up until a week before the Games kicked off.
Fatigue affected senior players like Faris Ramli and Sahil Suhaimi, and it was a symptom of a lack of clearly marked objectives.
Reports of internal discord within the team merely two weeks before the tournament also smacked of poor direction setting and management.
Football spent $3.5 million over an 18-month preparation period for the Games, 27 times more than the 20 days Indonesia had to ready themselves.
Indonesia pipped Singapore to the semi-final spot in Group A.
But football remains the prodigal son of Singapore sport.
"It remains the sport that can fill the National Stadium. It remains the sport that has the highest number of players, not just playing the sport, but also in the private sector in the sport - there is huge interest," said Sport Singapore (SportSG) chief executive Lim Teck Yin, pointing to large number of private football academies running programmes for kids here.
"And we are short of (football) fields, even though we have more than a 100. The desire for football is extremely strong - and in my view, the ecosystem needs to be strengthened," he added, arriving at the same conclusion as Wong.
SportSG's football taskforce is aimed at getting to the root of the problem of the sport in Singapore, and coming up with recommendations to help take it up to the next level.
And while the taskforce has not seen much activity over the last few SEA Games-focused months, it will kick into gear and come up with a plan.
"They have preliminary ideas, but they have not put out their final recommendations, yet," said Wong.
Lim envisions a long hard road ahead.
"Very clearly, there's a lot of work that needs to be done to clarify the direct outcomes that we're hoping to see from every major initiative from football," he said. "And how those outcomes accumulate in the larger positioning of football and quality of football we see in Singapore."
"It remains the sport that can fill the National Stadium. It remains the sport that has the highest number of players, not just playing the sport, but also in the private sector in the sport — there is huge interest."
- Sport Singapore chief executive Lim Teck Yin on the draw of football