SINGAPORE — Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), has stated that the government is dedicated to uplifting the standards of Singapore football. However, he emphasized that people should not expect immediate results.
Mr Tong made these remarks in response to written questions from Melvin Yong, Member of Parliament for Radin Mas SMC.
Mr Yong inquired about the Ministry’s plans to rebuild the local football ecosystem and whether there should be increased scrutiny on the pipeline of young football talents, following the poor performance of the Singapore national football team at the 32nd SEA Games.
In their final group game at the 32nd SEA Games in Cambodia on 11 May this year, Singapore’s football team suffered a crushing 7-0 defeat against Malaysia.
This defeat marked Singapore’s most significant loss since the previous edition, where they lost 0-5 to Thailand. It was also the first time since 1987 that the under-22 football team finished the tournament at the bottom of the group with zero wins.
As the governing body of local football, the FAS was lambasted with criticism over the national team’s performance.
‘Long-term endeavour’ requires a whole of society’s effort
Acknowledging the disappointing performance of the Singapore national football team at the SEA Games, Mr Tong emphasised that everyone, including the team, recognizes the need for better results.
Irrespective of the team’s recent performance, Mr Tong reiterated the government’s commitment to supporting the “Unleash the Roar!” (UTR!) project, and will work hard, to uplift the standards of Singapore football.
“This endeavour will also require a whole of society effort, and we encourage Singaporeans to support the UTR! project.”
However, Tong, formerly vice-president of FAS from 2013 to 2020, cautioned that significant improvements should not be expected immediately, as this will be a “long-term endeavour that will require collective action from many stakeholders”.
“I am pleased to share that there is steady progress on the UTR! project. Earlier this year, we shared with Members of the House on the progress of our School Football Academies (SFAs) and our partnership with Spain’s LaLiga Academy to provide overseas training opportunities. ”
Longer-term initiatives to uplift Singapore football
Mr Tong added that Singapore also set out concrete measures to uplift Singapore football in the longer-term:
- First, establish a national framework to systematically select and develop the best players from the broad base of participation that we have from the SFAs, the Singapore Sports School, ActiveSG Football Academy as well as private clubs and academies;
- Second, set up a national football development centre as the main training centre to develop more structured opportunities for training and competition for those who aspire to be selected and represent Singapore in the national teams;
- Third, progressively roll out training on talent identification for coaches, and strengthen the scouts’ capabilities in identifying the best of our young footballers;
- and Fourth, launch the inaugural UTR! scholarship to provide promising footballers the best environment to train and compete, alongside their academic pursuits. The scholarships will be launched later this year.
“These are being implemented, and we will share more details in the coming months, ” Mr Tong added.
Emphasising citizenship criteria beyond sporting abilities
On Tuesday (4 Jul), Mr Don Wee, MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC and Mr Yip Hon Weng, MP for Yio Chu Kang SMC, separately asked Mr Tong for updates on the review conducted by the FAS regarding the team’s poor performance.
Mr Yip also inquired if SportSG intends to collaborate with FAS to restart a scheme, similar to other countries, where foreign players are naturalised to improve performance, and if so, will it consider implementing an accelerated process to citizenship for talented players to play for Singapore.
Responding to the queries, Mr Tong reassured that the panel commissioned by the FAS to review the football team’s performance is still ongoing, and the findings are expected to be released in July.
In response to Mr Yip’s query regarding the potential collaboration between SportSG and FAS to reintroduce a scheme for naturalizing foreign players, Mr Tong reiterated that the primary focus of Singapore’s long-term strategy to uplift its football scene is to foster the growth of local talent within the country.
“We will, however, not rule out continuing to work with FAS to assess and naturalise foreign players who have both the talent and the heart to represent Singapore.”
In the past, these have included Daniel Bennett and Mustafic Fahrudin, Song Uiyoung and Aleksander Duric.
‘While Aleksander has since retired from competitive play, he continues to contribute to Singapore football in his capacity now as Principal of our ActiveSG Football Academy, ” Mr Tong added.
Regarding whether government consider implementing an accelerated process to citizenship for talented players to play for Singapore, Mr Tong said It is important that beyond sporting abilities, these players must demonstrate that they are prepared to take up the duties and responsibilities that come with citizenship, and have shown their ability to integrate into our society.
“Therefore, while we will tap on our foreign sports talent scheme to support our football objectives, we need to do so at a posture and pace that reflects the wider considerations of our sporting policies, as well as the granting of Singaporean citizenship.”