Football: A sorry situation, all round

Football: A sorry situation, all round
Singapore's Under-23 defender Safuwan Baharudin (No. 21) and teammates, heading to the dressing room in disappointment after losing to Thailand's under-23 1-0 during the semi-final match at the 27th South-east Asian (SEA) Games held in Naypyidaw, Myanmar on 19 December 2013.


Sahil Suhaimi may have been thinking about the possibility of lining up against Japan at next month's Asian Games, and perhaps even scoring a goal against the continent's No. 1 ranked football nation, as he flew back to Singapore from Manama, Bahrain, yesterday.

Just 22, the talented striker was the match-winner for the Singapore Under-23s' friendly clash with their Bahrain counterparts in Manama early yesterday morning (Singapore time), scoring twice for the visitors to post a 3-2 win.

Hours after the victory, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) issued a statement saying it would prepare an appeal for the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) in the hope of receiving the green light for the U-23s to play at the Asian Games, which will be held in Incheon, South Korea, from Sept 19 to Oct 4.

But SNOC secretary general Chris Chan later told The New Paper the football team will not go because they have not met the criteria set - to mount a strong challenge against opponents ranked in the top six in Asia.

I find it bizarre that the FAS is putting together an appeal while the SNOC's stance suggests, by all accounts, that the footbal team don't have a chance of success.

While the official final date for an appeal for Asian Games participation was last Friday, it is understandable if the SNOC extends the deadline a little to accommodate national sports associations who are scrambling to put together new results for their athletes or teams in what is a busy international calendar.

But, for the FAS to arrange to play Bahrain when the SNOC's stand has always been the requirement to show positive results against teams ranked in the top six in Asia indicates either that the NSA didn't understand how serious the guidelines were, or simply misunderstood them.

What is even more troubling is the fact that the SNOC guidelines were communicated to all NSAs well before the initial deadline for Asian Games submissions in April, yet, the FAS failed to put together a convincing plan for the U-23s in their bid to play at the 2014 Asian Games.

The FAS technical department led by national coach Bernd Stange could have talked it over with Chan and together come up with a strategy that would give the team the best chance possible of playing in Incheon, instead of assuming last year's bronze medal at the South-east Asia Games and results of a training tour to Turkey and Austria would be enough.

At the same time, I believe SNOC's stand with football is off the mark.

For the third successive Games, Singapore's football team were not given the nod at the first time of asking by the Olympic body, although in 2006 and 2010, the FAS's appeals were successful.

This time, it looks as if Singapore's young players will miss the chance to test themselves against the best in Asia.

Competing at major Games is a serious business and athletes, teams and officials must realise this.

But football is the No. 1 sport in Singapore.

It occupies a special place in the local sports' tapestry and should be treated differently.

Singaporeans from all walks of life, every creed, colour and race, love the game, and come together in their thousands for the game.

No other sport has such a hold over the nation.

To consistently demand results against top-six teams from the continent is just too strict a rule and on its part, the SNOC should meet the FAS and come up with a blueprint that is tough, but realistic.

Our players hardly get the chance to play against top level opposition.

Football tournaments like the Asian Games will be a boon for youngsters, even if it means the team are knocked out at the initial group stage having played just three games.

They will not win a medal, but the experience gained will be important.

With football agents sitting in the stands, it is also a shopping window for the likes of Safuwan Baharudin and Sahil, two genuinely promising young Singaporeans who I believe have the ability to do well on such a stage.

Our closest rivals get it.

Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia are all sending their football teams to the Asian Games.

Yet, Singapore are the record four-time champions of ASEAN.

It is time the FAS and SNOC get together and sing from the same hymn sheet.

For the sake of those who will follow in the footsteps of Sahil, who will miss his only shot at the Asian Games.

This article was published on Aug 7 in The New Paper.

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