The chief executive officer of the S-League, Singapore’s domestic football league, has come under criticism for what he said to players of the Tanjong Pagar United football club recently.
It was announced that the club would not be participating in the 2015 competition “due to money”, as reported by the Straits Times last week.
"We were unable to find a sponsor for this year after Field Catering, who came in with a $100,000 sponsorship last season, pulled out before this season,” club chairman Edward Liu said then.
It will be the second time that the jaguars, as the club is also known, will sit out the competition. It had also done so after the 2004 campaign, similarly citing financial reasons for the withdrawal then.
The S-League has also been shrunk from 12 teams to 10, with Woodlands Wellington and Hougang United merging into one team.
Tanjong Pagar United’s withdrawal this year from the professional league competition has caused anxiety among its players and staff, who are unsure what to do next.
Some took to the online space to voice their unhappiness, questioning the leadership of Mr Liu and the league’s CEO, Lim Chin.
In response, the two men held a meeting with the players and staff last week.
A 85-minute recording of the meeting was later leaked online, and led to further criticism of Mr Lim’s response, particularly for the tone and the words he used at the meeting.
Mr Lim was apparently defending Mr Liu when the latter came under fire from the players at the meeting.
Mr Lim blasted the players:
"The chairman of the club and the management committee (are) above all of you. You are players, nobody is bigger than the club. The chairman heads the club.
"The management committee is not for you to judge... So I think you all need to know where you stand as a player, as a staff, as a coach.
"Do not ever question the chairman on his role and responsibility."
He is also reported to have said:
"Some of the reasons you may not accept well and good, I cannot force you to accept every answer that we give you, but we are giving you the truth. If you cannot accept the truth then we cannot help you in any way."
Mr Lim’s outburst was criticised by some for being insensitive to the players who had suddenly found themselves with an uncertain future with the club after the withdrawal from the S League was announced.
The changes to the league and the withdrawal of Tanjong Pagar was announced a mere three months before the start of the next season.
A posting on the My S-League Story Facebook page said that while there is merit to the S-League’s plans for consolidation, it was the sudden manner in which this was decided which has caused unhappiness.
“It is the abrupt and arbitrary manner by which the reform has been conducted that irks me the most,” the posting said. “Players should have been given at least a season's heads up. What should have been done in my opinion is for next season to continue with 12 teams but to have relegation, where the bottom 2 teams will sit out from 2016 onwards. This would make the league more exciting and give the players and playing staff enough time to make plans for the future.”
Another posting on the “Ass League” blog also questioned the decision to reduce the size of the league next season.
“[One] needs to remember that these people are football players with short careers and very wobbly rice bowls due to lack of job security. They are men with families to feed, and they are merely seeking clarification on the actions and decisions undertaken by the ones who may have a profound effect on their ability to feed their families. Mr. Lim claims to want to make the League stronger, but are these decisions doing the League any good when all it will do is serve to further convince Singaporeans that football is far from being a viable career in Singapore?”
Warriors FC’s Hassan Sunny also expressed similar sentiments last week.
“Players and coaches who lose their jobs as a result cannot be left alone just like that,” said Hassan, who was named the Player of the Year at an award ceremony last week.
“Something must be done for them, as they have served the league well. The FAS can provide them with some subsidies to prepare for life after football, such as provide them some compensation to equip themselves with relevant skills to find jobs in the footballing industry and even outside of it,” he said.
Mr Lim, who also attended the event, was booed when he appeared.
A former colonel in the Army who had also served as Chief of Artillery, Mr Lim later told the press that on hindsight he “could have been more sympathetic” towards the players.
"My tone was a bit loud but, certainly, I think we empathised with the players who were affected,” he said.
Mr Lim explained that he was upset by the players’ criticism of Mr Liu.
"It just hurt me to find that the players, in such a big forum and in front of everyone, were questioning Edward's role and what he has done for the club,” Mr Lim said.
"So, at that moment, I felt that I couldn't sit down and let this continue."
The S-League has suffered from declining interest, including from sponsors, and the standard of Singapore football has seen a drop in FIFA’s world’s ranking.
Singapore is now placed 161st in the world, a slump of 12 places from last year.
President of the Football Association of Singapore, Zainuddin Nordin, believes however that the changes and consolidation of the league will bring more interests for the clubs.
“Research commissioned by us has shown that the present local environment cannot support a 12-club S.League,” he said last week. “The consolidation of the S-League into a 10-club league next season would make the league stronger, more competitive and a more exciting product that will help to draw more fans to the stadiums, and attract potential sponsors."
Mr Zainuddin, who is also a Member of Parliament for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, has served three 2-year terms as FAS chief, but will be stepping down next year.