Game Over, Winston

IN BETWEEN nasi ambeng and satay on Thursday evening, representatives of National Football League clubs explored a proposal to set up a café to raise money for their teams. The 24  sides playing in two divisions of the NFL are running on annual budgets of between $6,000 and $16,000.

The higher figure belongs to Jungfrau Punggol FC, but it is an exception because the team owner is Salman Abdullah, who happens to run Padi@Bussorah’s restaurant. In reality, the average budget for the 24 amateur teams is about $8,000. They are struggling, which is unforgivable, and an embarrassment to the Football Association of Singapore.

Why so?

Well, because while the teams’ representatives were cracking their heads on how to generate revenue to keep their sides playing in the NFL, Commercial Affairs Department officers were in the midst of raiding the FAS offices.

At the heart of the CAD investigation is a $500,000 cheque that Tiong Bahru Football Club chairman Bill Ng wrote to the FAS, who then donated the money to the ASEAN Football Federation. What it is for is immaterial, but details have been reported in the media over the last few days.

What matters, though, is why did the FAS allow half a million dollars to benefit a non-Singapore football organisation when the money could have been used to help struggling local NFL clubs?

This is a serious dereliction of duty by FAS general secretary Winston Lee, who is Singapore’s top football administrator. He made the unilateral decision to allow the donation to go to the AFF because he contended the FAS Council did not have to be informed about it.

But the FAS’ constitution defines the Council as the association’s supreme body. Its primary responsibility is to ensure Singapore football is managed with integrity and not fall into disrepute, the kind of which has got Winston and, by extension, the FAS into a tangle.

The FAS Council hires the general secretary but when it is oblivious to what its employee has been up to, the roof inevitably caves. Should anyone, therefore, be surprise at the sorry state of Singapore football today, especially the S-League? The dramatic slide from top ASEAN team to near minnows began under Winston’s watch, after he assumed his current post in 2008. National youth teams also floundered and flopped.

But there is a silver lining.

With the CAD hauling up Winston for questioning, including Bill and two others, his tenure as general secretary is all but over.

It does not matter whether he is found complicit in any wrongdoing or not, but the new Council, when it is elected on April 29, must release him. Its mandate from voting members is to overhaul Singapore football and reverse the game’s dive and it must stay true to this mission. This means also ridding what other rot that has taken root in the secretariat and filling it with more capable staff.

Many were hopeful that the election of new office bearers will trigger Winston’s exit and those closely linked to him. But the events of the past week that culminated in the CAD action, which came as a complete shock, are now forcing the issue.

My only gripe: Why did it take so long for matters to reach this stage for real good to finally come upon Singapore football?



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