FAS or Fifa: Lim Kia Tong's conundrum
He may be forced to choose between running for FAS presidency and retaining his Fifa position
The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) has yet to amend its constitution to allow for a full election of its council members, and it has not even revealed the timeline for what would be the first time that the football fraternity chooses its own leaders.
But even before the wheels of change have been set in motion, FAS vice-president Lim Kia Tong - who has been bandied about as a natural successor to president Zainudin Nordin - may find himself with a big choice to make.
Lim, a 64-year-old lawyer, is into the third of a four-year term as the deputy chairman of Fifa's disciplinary committee (DC), and may be forced to step down if he decides to run for the FAS presidency because of a clause in Fifa's Governance Regulations.
Article 5.1 of the regulations states that in order to be considered independent, as required for certain positions (for example as members of the judicial bodies), a candidate or a holder of such position may not, among others, hold an official function in a confederation or a member association during the four years preceding the initial term.
While Lim has yet to officially announce his candidacy for the FAS presidency, this rule - while not precluding him from running for the position - could affect his deputy chairmanship of Fifa's DC because of the independence required of the role.
Article 38.4 states that "the incumbent chairpersons, deputy chairpersons and members of the Disciplinary Committee, of each of the two chambers of the Ethics Committee and of the Appeal Committee shall, at least annually and prior to re-election or extension of the mandate, be subject to independence reviews."
While Fifa confirmed the rules are in force, it declined to elaborate.
"We are not in a position to speculate on potential scenarios concerning individuals," said a Fifa spokesman in response to queries from The New Paper.
Lim, however, has been involved in football in an official capacity since 1999 when he became an FAS council member, before stepping up to become its vice-president in 2007.
He is also highly respected in international football circles, having been a member of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) legal committee from 2003 to 2006 and its DC from 2007 to 2011.
He has been the AFC DC's chairman since March 2011 and will continue at least until July 2019.
Lim became the first Singaporean to assume a leadership role on a Fifa committee when he was elected its DC's deputy chairman at the Fifa Congress in May 2013.
Fifa did not answer questions on whether there was special dispensation given to Lim, who has already proven his independence in other matters.
In 2012, the AFC DC headed by Lim extended the provisional suspension of Mohamed Hammam, the then AFC president, who was one of the key men who appointed Lim to his position.
Fifa has other rules in place to preserve the independence of its judicial bodies, and it remains unclear if the requirement of not holding "official function" in a confederation of member association will serve as the primary rule.
Article 52(5) of the Fifa Statutes says that the chairperson, deputy chairperson and other members "shall not be members of any other Fifa body", while Article 87 of its Disciplinary Code states that "members of the judicial bodies of Fifa must decline to participate in any meeting concerning a matter where there are serious grounds for questioning their impartiality", including those where the member is from the same nationality as the party implicated.
Lim had told TNP earlier that he was "honoured and humbled by the speculation" of him running for president, but he remained focused on his primary task in the FAS - amending its constitution.
His stance has not changed.
"The possible issue of my tenure as the deputy chairman of the Fifa disciplinary committee is purely hypothetical at the moment," he said.
"My immediate priority now is to serve the best interests of Singapore football and also to be a responsible member of the world's footballing community. The amendment of the FAS Constitution is indeed such priority."
Only one group - put together by R Vengadasalam, a former team manager of now-defunct S.League side Woodlands Wellington - has declared its interest in running at the FAS election when it happens.
Vengadasalam has yet to announce the names of candidates he is putting forward.
My immediate priority now is to serve the best interests of Singapore football and also to be a responsible member of the world’s footballing community. The amendment of the FAS Constitution is indeed such priority.
— FAS vice-president Lim Kia Tong
It is necessary to take the time to engage the key stakeholders involved — including local stakeholders, Fifa and AFC — and we are leaving no stone unturned in this rigorous process.
— FAS spokesman on the constitutional amendment
Fifa: FAS case unlike Brunei or Indonesia
It was initially scheduled for March this year but, some five months after the deadline it had set for itself, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) has yet to call for an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) to amend clauses in its constitution that allow for government interference and instead move towards a full election of its council members.
In the past, the football associations of Brunei and Indonesia have been handed international bans as a result of long delays to align themselves with Fifa statutes.
Singapore, however, appears unlikely to suffer the same fate, even though it has been some 13 months since Fifa's first correspondence with the FAS regarding the matter.
In response to queries from The New Paper on the consequences of FAS failing to meet its deadlines, a Fifa spokesman said "we cannot speculate on potential scenarios. However, the cases cited (Brunei and Indonesia) do not compare to the situation of the FAS".
The Brunei governing body was suspended from football activities from September 2009 to May 2011 and Indonesia's from May 2015 to May 2016, for direct government interference in their affairs.
The issue that Fifa has taken with the FAS is in article 19.3 of its constitution that was last updated in 2011.
It states that "all council members shall be appointed by the Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports (the former name of the current Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY)" - including the FAS president - "and shall, unless otherwise decided by the Minister, hold office for a period of two years".
Incumbent FAS president Zainudin Nordin (below) was appointed in 2009, when he was serving as a Member of Parliament. He was not put forward as a candidate at Singapore's 2015 General Election.
The FAS has yet to announce its timeline for the calling of an EGM, as well as the election that is to follow, but Fifa asserts that it is working with the association on the matter.
"Fifa continues to assist the FAS - and other member associations - in ensuring that its statutes are in accordance with the requirements of the Fifa Standard Statutes. This process is currently ongoing," added the spokesman.
TNP understands that the term of the FAS executive council will end on Sept 30, but neither Fifa nor the FAS would commit to what would happen should the FAS EGM and its election not happen before then.
In response to queries, an FAS spokesman said: "Like any major amendment to a constitution, there are challenges - especially so when this will involve the FAS' first election.
"It is necessary to take the time to engage the key stakeholders involved - including local stakeholders, Fifa and AFC - and we are leaving no stone unturned in this rigorous process."
"There is a timeline in place for this process," the spokesman added, without revealing the schedule the FAS is working on.
"FAS will stand guided by Fifa guidelines in ensuring the electoral process and leadership composition are in place to carry out the necessary procedures and management. More details will be announced in due course."
- SHAMIR OSMAN