Cardiff City footballer Perry Ng dreams of donning Singapore jersey
Cardiff City defender Perry Ng is enjoying his best season yet in the English Championship, but what the 27-year-old Briton really yearns for is a call up to the Singapore national football team.
Under Fifa’s rules, the right-back – who was featured in the second-tier league’s Team of the Month for September – is eligible to turn out for Singapore via his late paternal grandfather James, who was born here but later settled in Liverpool.
However, Singapore’s citizenship rules state that qualifying for a passport by descent is applicable only to individuals with at least one parent who is born in Singapore or is a citizen by registration.
Ng is hoping for a resolution to his international future and if he gets his wish, he will be the first heritage athlete to be given the nod, and passport, to represent Singapore.
“I want to play for Singapore. I hope it happens sooner rather than later. I have always said I want to make my grandad and my family there proud,” the England-born defender told The Straits Times in a phone interview.
Heritage athletes are those with ancestral connections to a country and increasingly, nations like the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand have used them to their sporting advantage in basketball, football and rugby, among others.
Singapore has previously recruited and naturalised athletes under the foreign sports talent scheme for sports such as badminton, football and table tennis – they are not born here or have any parental or ancestral links to the country.
Ng has been in discussions with the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) and the latest round of talks was held in May, according to the Cardiff defender who was named the Welsh side’s player of the 2022-23 season.
He added: “I don’t know how changing my citizenship will affect me playing in England and living in England. So at the moment, I am working on things on my side. I know it will be a long process but the FAS and I want to get it done.”
In response to queries, FAS general secretary Yazeen Buhari did not directly address the issue of Ng’s eligibility as a heritage player. He said that under the Government-backed Unleash the Roar! project, growing the pipeline of local talent is a key thrust in the long-term strategy to uplift Singapore football. However, the FAS will work to assess and naturalise foreign players who have “both the talent and the heart to represent Singapore”.
Yazeen added: “It is important that beyond sporting abilities, we must be convinced that these players are prepared to take up duties and responsibilities that come with citizenship. They must also demonstrate their ability to integrate into our society. While we remain open to tapping on naturalised talents to support our football objectives, we should do so at a pace that reflects the wider considerations of our sporting and citizenship policies.”
When contacted, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) referred ST to a written answer in July to a parliamentary question on whether Sport Singapore is planning to implement an accelerated process to citizenship for talented players to play for Singapore.
MCCY’s response then was similar to Yazeen’s reply to ST.
While there were previously obstacles in Ng’s bid to represent Singapore, a recent rule change in the United Kingdom has given him confidence.
Players with passports from outside the European Union and the European Economic Area need permission to work in the UK. The UK Home Office has a points-based system based on which clubs must apply to the English FA for a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) for such players.
If the player does not automatically meet these criteria, the club can request an FA Exceptions Panel to determine whether a GBE should be granted. In June, the UK interior ministry updated the GBE criteria which allows English Premier League and Championship teams to sign up to four players who do not meet the points requirements for work permits.
Ng said that he has been in touch with the Professional Footballers’ Association in the UK and his club lawyers so that there will be no hiccups once he gives up his British passport for a Singaporean one.
Ng said: “I think a few years ago, it was a lot more unorganised. There was no clarity on the situation. I wasn’t as settled in my career as I am now. Now is a perfect time and the club is helping me with this too. I’m trying to push as much as I can.”
Ng has made regular visits to Singapore over the years, with his most recent one in May. When in town, he catches up with his aunts, uncles and cousins. He enjoys eating at his aunt’s hokkien prawn mee and fried kway teow stall at Bedok North and rates chicken rice and roti prata as his favourite local dishes.
Having his relatives watch him play in Singapore colours will be a dream come true.
“My family here have never watched me play football and I want that to happen someday,” said Ng.
Apart from Ng, there are other footballers who are eligible to play for Singapore through their heritage under Fifa rules. Sunderland midfielder Luke O’Nien, 28, qualifies via his late Singaporean grandfather Lim Cheng Siong, the younger brother of former Cabinet minister Lim Kim San. He has previously expressed his desire to play for the Lions.
Austria Wien II winger Daniel Au Yeong, 20, has represented Austria at the youth level is also eligible through his father, former Singapore captain Au-yeong Pak Kuan. It has also been reported in English media that Manchester United Under-18 defender Sonny Aljofree has a grandfather from Singapore.
Former Lions defender R.Sasikumar is in strong support of allowing heritage players to represent the country.
He said: “It will be a good idea especially given that we really need quality players to come in and lift the team. But the big question is, will the rules allow that? All the bureaucracy might take a bit of time and the players are not getting any younger as well.
“So while the idea is great, I think logistically trying to make it happen will be a bit of a challenge.”