FAS VP: Policy governs funding of grassroots football
Policy of favouring elite football over grassroots governs funding, says Lim
Much has been made about just how much funding has been channelled into grassroots football here, and it is poised to be a major battleground for votes when the Football Association of Singapore FAS eventually calls for the election of its leadership.
But FAS vice-president Lim Kia Tong believes that while there has been some furore generated over the amount spent on grassroots football, the critical factor is the policy that governs how money is spent, not the quantum of money itself.
In its annual report for the last financial year, the FAS declared that a net sum of $70,000 was spent on grassroots football, with its vice-president Bernard Tan claiming that an additional $180,000 - in "estimated shared cost borne by FAS", including (staff) headcount, overheads and (office) facilities - have been poured in, bringing costs up to $250,000.
Lim believes that most arguments fail to see the forest for the trees.
"Whether it is $70,000, $170,000 or $250,000, the crux of the matter is that there is too little attention afforded on the National Football League (NFL)," he told The New Paper yesterday.
"We can argue till the cows come home, but the fact is that there is now little emphasis on the NFL.
"We can't deny that. But it is not because of neglect, it is due to the policy of favouring elite football over the grassroots."
In addition to the NFL, there is the 14-team Island Wide League (IWL) that also falls under the umbrella of grassroots or community football.
Even if $250,000 had indeed been spent on grassroots, this represents a mere 0.7 per cent of the FAS' $35.8 million annual budget.
And it is a measly amount when compared to what has been channelled into the S.League ($16m), the now-defunct LionsXII ($4.4m) and women's football ($1m).
Lim argues that these three segments are geared towards improving elite football, and that it is not fair to compare those to grassroots funding.
"You can't argue that spending $4.4 million on the LionsXII in the Malaysian Super League is wrong, because there is no basis for comparison," he said.
The LionsXII were a developmental team for the national team and, under the current policy, there was a need to channel funding to that end.
"The starting point of the grassroots is that they are social footballers, who are not even semi-pro, and they play for the love of the game.
"But, if we change that policy, we can move the pen to look for more funding."
Lim has already asserted that if he does stand for election, there will be a policy shift.
He revealed at a media roundtable on Wednesday that should he helm the FAS, there will be added focus and weightage given to grassroots football.
The search has already started for a stadium dedicated solely to the NFL - two have already been shortlisted - while the FAS is exploring the possibility of creating a department focused on only grassroots football.
Lim revealed yesterday that the FAS is "serious about getting technical people to help impart skills on how to manage football clubs in the NFL".
With the FAS having earlier announced that registration fees - pegged at $1,498 in 2016 - will be waived for the NFL next year, there are some who have accused the FAS of implementing desperate measures to win the hearts of the grassroots fraternity in a bid to stay in power.
Of the FAS' 46 affiliates with voting rights - nine are S.League sides, including those that are sitting out, 10 play in the NFL, 14 in the IWL and 13 other members, including five clubs participating in the Women's Premier League.
With a total of 24 clubs, it is clear that grassroots football itself can form a simple majority.
But Lim rubbishes such talk, bringing up the issue of block voting that the FAS has decided to keep out of its proposed constitution.
Block voting was one of the changes mooted by Fifa to balance the weightage of votes to ensure that each faction in the football fraternity has an equal say.
This would mean that each group - S.League, NFL, Island Wide League and others (13) - will have 10 votes each, no matter how many members they have.
This would have seen each S.League vote have a 1.11 weightage, while each IWL vote carries 0.71.
"We are not desperate. Being desperate is agreeing with Fifa on block voting," said Lim.
"We have played a clean game and fought to preserve the members' right to one member, one vote, and we want to be as transparent and as open as possible.
"How is that being desperate?"
The starting point of the grassroots is that they are social footballers, who are not even semi-pro, and they play for the love of the game. But, if we change that policy, we can move the pen to look for more funding.
— FAS vice-president Lim Kia Tong
CLUBS QUESTION FAS' MOVES
TALENT SPOTTING: The FAS is set to boost its investments into grassroots development programmes (above). PHOTOS: ST, BH FILE
They picked up newspapers yesterday only to find out that some financial information they were provided in the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) annual report was either inaccurate or had been modified in a way that was not made clear to them.
And members of clubs in the National Football League (NFL) and Island Wide League (IWL) were livid.
The FAS had called for a media roundtable on Wednesday when it claimed that the $70,000 spent on grassroots football - as reflected in its annual report presented at its Sept 24 Annual General Meeting (AGM) - did not paint a clear picture of the real amount that was put in.
Burgeoned by $180,000 put down to "estimated shared cost borne by FAS", including headcount (staff), overheads and (office) facilities - the new total figure given was $250,000, more than three times the figure in the annual report.
NFL and IWL clubs that The New Paper spoke to were shocked to see the bigger sum and appalled that such information went to the press first instead of FAS members.
"The idea behind all this is transparency. We were questioning that $70,000 at the AGM, and now they are saying it is $250,000," said Alfred Dodwell of IWL side Gymkhana FC.
"How are we as members to understand exactly how the number grew to be so big?"
In a statement, an FAS spokesman explained that the additional costs were "derived from our cost allocation principle", and that the statement of accounts "is prepared in accordance with Singapore Financial Reporting Standards (SFRS)".
NFL side GFA Sporting Westlake's James Lim said: "We are members of FAS, but we don't know the approximation of staffing costs or how it is calculated. We are as clueless as anyone."
Dodwell added: "In the interest of transparency, the FAS should not hide behind the SFRS. It should come out and explain exactly how it arrived at the figure."
TNP understands that some clubs have sent official queries to the FAS, including a request to explain the calculation of "shared costs" and why these figures were released to the media, and not to FAS members.
Former manager of the now-defunct Woodlands Wellington, R Vengadasalam was also upset.
"We welcome the clarification on the $250,000, but this number should not have been released to the public before going to the members of the FAS," he said.
"This is an issue of governance, isn't it? The auditors stood by the accounts when it was presented at the AGM, and I'm wondering if they will stand by these ones."
The FAS spokesman asserted that the association's accounts as presented at the AGM, "are audited by a public accounting firm, give a true and fair view of the financial position of the FAS".
Alim Omar, team manager of NFL side Siglap FC, questioned if other numbers presented in the annual report could be similarly inflated.
He said: "If the spending on grassroots can increase by more than three times based on factors like staff costs and facilities costs, wouldn't we need to do the same to the amount spent on the S.League and LionsXII if we are to compare the numbers fairly?
"This is considering how FAS staff spend significantly more of their time on S.League and LionsXII affairs compared to what they put into grassroots football.
"Wouldn't that then see the amount spent on those things increase by a lot too?"
- SHAMIR OSMAN
We are appalled that they called for a media roundtable without informing members. These days, it seems like I have to subscribe to TNP if I want to find out information about the association that I am part of.
— Alfred Dodwell, Gymkhana FC
By the numbers