The newly-elected Football Association of Singapore (FAS) council began its first official day in charge by organising a lunch yesterday for the near-80 staff to allay any fears they might have after a turbulent few weeks prior to Saturday’s polls.
Over nasi briyani and teh tarik, FAS president Lim Kia Tong assured the employees their jobs were safe and there would be minimal upheaval as the new administration sought to revive the ailing sport.
“This lunch is important because looking back, the staff was hardly engaged previously,” Lim, whose team had beaten the Game Changers, a slate led by Hougang United chairman Bill Ng 30-13, at the election, told The Straits Times.
The 64-year-old lawyer and former FAS vice-president added: “The election also created some psychological uncertainty in their minds as they could be worried who will come into power.
“This might determine their tenure at FAS and it certainly created an air of uncertainty.
“Having met them for lunch, this tells me a story that the staff is more relaxed now. They are pleased to know that a familiar figure will continue to lead them.”
While the future of FAS general secretary Winston Lee, who attended the lunch, has been subject to intense speculation, both Lim and vice-president Edwin Tong stressed that Lee’s position was not being discussed yet and he will continue to help run the association.
It echoed Lim’s post-election press conference words when he said: “We’ll deal with each staff behind closed doors. We have to respect the terms of their employment contracts.
“We won’t make any comment on his (Lee) future and it is best left to be decided much, much later.”
Lee, Ng and his wife Bonnie Wong, and former FAS president and former MP of Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC Zainudin Nordin were arrested two weeks ago as part of an ongoing police investigation. All are out on police bail.
The atmosphere was more light-hearted at the FAS office at Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday.
Lydia Lim-Goh, office manager of technical director Michel Sablon’s department, said that she felt relieved to see Lim elected.
“I have known Kia Tong for a long time (Lim first joined FAS as a disciplinary committee member in 1992),” said the 66-year-old, who has been with the association for 44 years and has worked under numerous presidents including R. B. I. Pates, N. Ganesan, Teo Chong Tee and Major Abbas Abu Amin.
“He has really grown into his role. He is very down to earth and even though he is a lawyer, he does not talk down to people.
“The staff are looking forward to working with the new council and we are very happy to support Kia Tong and his team.”
Staff members, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that previously, employees were not allowed to interact with or have direct contact with council members.
But Tong believes the new council will institute changes to make FAS a more transparent and more engaging organisation.
He said: “One of the priorities after the election is to introduce ourselves (to the FAS staff) and reassure them that our style is quite different.
“We want to reiterate the point that we are consultative and we want to invite all of them to share their views.
“They are the domain experts and they see to it (the running of Singapore football) day to day.”
Lim had promised that his team would hit the ground running and they were true to his word.
The council gathered at the FAS boardroom at 6.30pm for its first official meeting yesterday.
Apart from deputy president Bernard Tan, who is away in Chicago on a business trip, 14 of the 15 council members were present.
Lee also attended the meeting but his position was not part of the agenda raised, noted Tong.
Instead, over the course of three hours and 15 minutes, issues like the FAS’ administrative structure, governance and youth development were discussed.
Another key area raised was the S-League, which has struggled to retain fans’ interest.
To address it, a task force was formed and will be spearheaded by vice-presidents Teo Hock Seng, S. Thavaneson and council member Forrest Li.
The purpose of the meeting, said Tong, was to come up with broad structures to reshape Singapore football.
“The members were very forthcoming,” he said. “We have at least two names for each of the 16 standing committees (which touch on areas like administration, finance, facilities, women’s football, referees, competitions and audit).”
On the back of the $500,000 donation saga, governance is an area the new council wants to tighten.
“Partly,” Tong replied, when asked if the review was done in light of the controversy.
“But also because the new council wants to start off on a clean slate. We want to make sure there are no blind spots.”
At 9.45pm, the meeting was adjourned, marking the end to a very long day for many in the council. Yet their faces bore no hint of tiredness, only resolve to make good on their election promises.