Edwin Tong's move a fillip for Singapore sport
Having been FAS vice-president, the new minister in charge of sport knows the score
Edwin Tong has been on a "pilgrimage" to Old Trafford.
He is a Manchester United diehard, which ticks a very important box in my support column.
Us Red Devils are like that.
Of course, that is not the reason his recent appointment as sports minister gives this sports diehard hope.
I back him because he gets it.
There was much flurry and fuss when Tong, in his former capacity as vice-president of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), set the target for the Lions to qualify for the 2034 World Cup Finals in an interview with The Straits Times last year.
Critics reminded him of the spectacular failure of Goal 2010 - the original FAS target for World Cup qualification - and with the country struggling to even make a mark at South-east Asian level these days, he was ridiculed in many quarters.
But he believed the sport needed a game-changing move and he stuck to his guns, patiently telling anyone who asked that the idea was to get all stakeholders to come together so that a strong football foundation could be built, with the 2034 target as the north star.
That sturdy football foundation would ensure every national team is at least worthy of our support, even in defeat.
It would see the Lions consistently giving a good game to much superior opposition, and it would, on occasion, make them good enough to take on the challenge of unseating Asia's traditional powers, whether in 2034, 2038 or beyond.
It is a sound argument.
After his promotion to Minister for Culture, Community and Youth - which oversees sports in the country - on Saturday, Tong has stepped down from his posts at the FAS.
Football will always be his No. 1 but Tong loves sport in general, and his ministerial appointment gives Singapore sport hope as it looks for a jump-start post-Covid-19.
Tong is bold and aims high.
He also knows how important it is to get the foundation right, to ensure Singapore's athletes always fly the flag high, even if they don't win.
He knows that the ecosystem must hum sweetly, so that when Singapore does occasionally have a special talent in its midst, that athlete is given every chance to realise his or her potential.
I am sure he gets it - that for the foundation to be right, young Singaporeans must play sport in school from a very young age and fall in love with it so that they can stay fit and healthy and make this a sporting nation.
While he is no longer with the FAS, Tong, 50, knows the unique place football occupies in the country.
It is Singapore's No. 1 sport, the only one capable of holding an entire nation in its thrall and it requires the whole country to come together and support the FAS as it works urgently to lift the game out of the doldrums.
I have spoken to him on a number of occasions and the former top lawyer is personable, clear, thoughtful and detailed where necessary.
Crucially, he is also willing to listen.
He will need all his skills because his in-tray is stacked.
The pandemic has laid waste to so much this year, including sports.
Training has been badly hobbled, priceless training camps have been called off, competitions have been put on hold, sponsorship dollars have dried up, funding has been hurt and a number of national sports associations are struggling.
Downtown Singapore will not be lit up for a Formula One Grand Prix, the World Rugby Sevens Series will not stop here and newly crowned English champions Liverpool's visit for the International Champions Cup this month was called off.
And we are forced to wait to see if local swim star Joseph Schooling can strike gold again after the Tokyo Olympics was postponed to 2021.
Tong and his team at Sport Singapore must find out why so many of the country's athletes who show great promise in their teenage years never fulfil it. Perhaps an official Schooling blueprint is required to map out a development path for all uniquely talented youngsters.
Tong and his team must work to get the calendar buzzing again post-coronavirus, they must plot with the Singapore Sports Hub consortium and make the National Stadium the heartbeat of sport in the country - a place where over 50,000 Singaporeans regularly watch the Lions roar.
There is a long road ahead with pitfalls aplenty, but Tong's love and passion for sport, and the fact that he gets it, is just what is required for Singapore sport to thrive.