S.League must go on: Krishna
Even if on life support, S.League cannot close down, says former Tampines chief
He may have left the helm of an S.League club, but former Tampines Rovers chairman Krishna Ramachandra asserts that Singapore's only professional sports league cannot be allowed to die.
The Tote Board is set to slash its $16 million in annual funding for the league by half, and while sources revealed that the situation is not as dire as previously suggested, the Football Association of Singapore's Jalan Besar headquarters has been silent on the matter.
"If we stop the league, it's like bringing a freight train to a complete stop - you lose all momentum that you had before, and it will take a big effort to get it going again," Krishna told The New Paper.
"That said, I do recognise systemic issues have to be dealt with."
The league has been plagued by dwindling crowd figures and shrinking sponsor interest. The broken pipeline of young footballers has also hurt the various national teams that have endured poor results.
But the 45-year-old is adamant that closing down the S.League is not the way forward.
"Stopping it completely will have a huge impact on the viability of the league going forward. Also, there are livelihoods at stake here, even the grassroots ecosystem of football. Livelihoods cannot afford to go into deep freeze indefinitely," he said.
"Someone needs to come out and explain these things, we can't just silently stand by without knowing what the future direction is."
Krishna tried to inject life into the league via Tampines. He oversaw the signing of former Arsenal winger Jermaine Pennant, while also bringing former Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier on board as the club's ambassador.
But breathing life into the league proved to be a task beyond the powers of a single club.
The moment we settle for past practices, there won’t be dynamism and you can’t develop as a player and as a team.Ex-Tampines Rovers chairman Krishna Ramachandra, who said he did not come into the S.League to win a popularity contest
"I was naive to assume that by singularly injecting buzz-creating initiatives that it would have an immediate and sustained interest within the whole fraternity," said Krishna, whose stint saw the club face various issues, including cash flow.
But the lawyer has dug into his own pocket - to the tune of a seven-figure sum - to keep the club going, even as he relinquished the chairmanship in August.
One of the sticking points ahead of Krishna stepping down was a $756,000 interest-free loan from credit-line sponsor, Taiwanese tech company Nogle. But Krishna revealed that he has settled that debt, and will give the club time to repay him when it can.
Even as he looked back on a time that Tampines caught the attention of the regional and even international media before being caught up in problems, Krishna was able to find joy.
"Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but let's be honest, I did enjoy myself. I have no regrets, I enjoyed the stint. Everyone has a leadership style, and that was a right expression of who I was," said Krishna, who wished he had got the entire league on board the plan to bring in a marquee player to help drive interest before he signed Pennant.
"I wouldn't actually change anything else of my chairmanship."
He believes that the league can learn from his lesson.
"It will sound trite but we simply need to pay more attention to a collective vision and strategy, put in place commercially viable initiatives, there will then be a greater buy-in from stakeholders.
"There will also be more fan engagement which will equate to greater sponsor value," he said, singling out fan-engagement as a key factor in a league's sustainability.
Proposals to fix the S.League have come out in dribs and drabs - from reducing the number of foreign players, to age restrictions and even a move towards a semi-professional competition. The fraternity remains divided on the best way to move forward, and the clock is ticking on a final decision before the season ends next month.
"Stakeholders must put aside their differences and work together. Singapore football can ill-afford internal politicking and petty squabbles," said Krishna, who is adamant that the league must survive for Singapore football to have a chance on the regional stage.
"My personal view is that the league must go on in some form," he said.
"If it has to go on life support, the nature of that life support is important - a fresh start could still be had even while on life support."