Privatisation the way forward for SPL: FAS chief Lim Kia Tong
FAS chief wants more privatised clubs, says he will seek another 4-year term
Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president Lim Kia Tong said yesterday that privatisation of clubs has to be the way forward for the Singapore Premier League (SPL).
He made the comment on the sidelines of a press conference announcing that insurer AIA Singapore had extended its title sponsorship of the SPL for another two years, till 2022.
The New Paper understands the deal is worth $2 million over two years, with an option of a further three.
Last year, Lion City Sailors (LCS) replaced Home United in the SPL, becoming the league's first privatised club in the process, with the new boys making waves in the local football scene ever since.
The LCS Football Academy last September became the first in Singapore to receive a one-star rating from the Asian Football Confederation.
The Sailors also registered another first when they made the league's first multi-million dollar transfer, luring Brazilian midfielder Diego Lopes from Portuguese top-flight side Rio Ave in January for $2.9m.
The club, who are bankrolled by billionaire Forrest Li, are also set to open their new $10m, 17,000 sq m training ground next year, which Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong described as a "fantastic facility". He added that he hoped such projects could be "scaled up over time".
Lim told TNP: "I think that is the way Singapore professional football must go.
"We cannot, decade after decade, rely on the Government (for) a few hundred thousand (dollars)... to just manage a club.
"And of course, the additional money coming from sponsors, from jackpot machines and all that. Which, actually to grow it at a higher level, may not be enough."
With the SPL's privatisation push in its infancy - only one of the eight clubs competing this season have undergone that transformation - Lim said he was keen to see the project through by seeking another term as FAS president.
His four-year tenure is set to end on April 28 and the national sports association has to hold elections before that.
When asked if he would stand again, the 68-year-old lawyer said: "(The desire to) serve Singapore football has never eroded in me. I still have (a) very strong passion to serve Singapore football and to make sure it grows to at least some stable, reputable extent."
He claimed that he is "humbled and heartened to know that a very big proportion of the football fraternity" has given him their support.
"I strongly believe I have the stature, the connection, the experience and the wisdom to at least help for another term," said Lim, who added that he is working on finalising his slate.
Referring to when he took over the helm of the FAS in 2017, he suggested that privatisation was almost a "no-hope situation", adding that Li's Sailors project has now offered a "spark" for the privatisation push to potentially catch fire.
Said Lim: "The concept of privatisation at that material point of time in Singapore is almost like a no-hope situation because we don't have people who are prepared to pump in money to a club.
"And our clubs do not own any assets, all the facilities belong to the Government, so there is no independence. So, the concept of privatisation would have taken a long time to be seeded."
Asked if he is in the midst of courting the next Li to enter the local football landscape, Lim said: "If you want to actually go out there to look, it takes a tremendous amount of effort.
"I have to go down to the ground and talk to those who maybe have the financial means. And if they only have the financial means but they are not convinced, I have to put in a lot of effort to convince them to support Singapore football.
"That will take a long time. So, I would just hope that word of mouth can come from Forrest Li himself, and he can help us spread the fire.
"I'm sure that if he's doing well and Singapore football is actually moving forward, we hope that other prospective people who want to be involved in football can come forward."
In the meanwhile, he is grateful for the support of entities like AIA, which has been the SPL's title sponsor since 2019.
The insurer will also collaborate with the FAS on several new initiatives, including Player of the Month and Young Player of the Month awards for the upcoming season, which kicks off on March 13.
Said AIA Singapore chief executive Wong Sze Keed: "Through this collaboration with FAS, we are committed to actively supporting our nation of developing local football talents, while also engaging and bringing football even closer to the community, helping us to deliver on our brand promise of enabling healthier, longer and better lives in Singapore."