FAS gets tough on smoking problem
Football body to begin clampdown on habit in S.League, starting with the Young Lions
The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) is tackling the longstanding problem of smoking within the professional ranks head on.
The clampdown has started with the Young Lions, essentially Singapore's Under-23 squad who play in the S.League and represent the country at competitions like the SEA Games and Asian Games.
Players in the squad who step forward and say they are smokers will get support to kick the habit and be asked to join a smoking cessation programme.
If he continues to flout the no-smoking rule, he will be fined an undisclosed amount and suspended.
And if he is caught again, he can be sacked by the Young Lions but still be allowed to look for a new club.
FAS deputy president Bernard Tan told The Straits Times that the smoking issue amongst footballers here is "endemic" despite past attempts to tackle the problem.
But, this time, the association would adopt a "zero tolerance" approach, he said.
He added: "We have to cultivate the correct habits (among footballers) and that includes stubbing out smoking. Smoking has no business at the elite level of sports."
The plan, he said, is to get the coaches' buy-in first.
"If they can get the discipline right, the rest (players) will follow."
The clampdown on smoking is the latest in a slew of changes to the local game.
The S.League, which kicks off on March 31, is also in the midst of an overhaul.
Tan added that all S.League clubs are encouraged to follow the Young Lions' example and discipline errant players, saying: "We will need the cooperation and commitment of the whole league.
"It (the anti-smoking policy) is a voluntary thing, we are not implementing any law but we hope the clubs can follow this lead."
However, he acknowledged the challenges ahead, noting that eradicating the problem of smoking "is going to be difficult as it is endemic".
Another tricky area is enforcement of the rules, as Tan acknowledged that "some (players) might be silly and they will want to smoke elsewhere", he said.
He also reiterated the FAS' resolve to tackle the problem, saying: "Even if we go abroad for international tournaments and players smoke, we will drop them.
"And if there are not enough (to field a team), we'll just concede a walkover because they have let the team down."
The problem of smoking has long plagued the Singapore football scene.
In 2000, a national player was caught lighting up during a training tour in Dubai.
That prompted the creation of a Code of Conduct & Professional Ethics for players which strictly prohibits smoking and the consumption of alcohol at all times.
It has even surfaced during tournaments such as a 2010 Asian Cup qualifier in Jordan.
In 2012, there were reports of members of the 2010 Youth Olympic Games squad, who won a bronze medal during the tournament, spending late nights drinking and smoking.
That led to the team's former coach Kadir Yahaya to express his concern in a 2012 interview, saying: "I feel the smoking culture has already gone out of hand."