Football: ASEAN united for Super League

It has been eight years since it was first revealed that the idea of an ASEAN Super League (ASL) was being explored.

From that time in 2007 when the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) made the announcement, through to the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) annual general meeting last September, when president Zainudin Nordin revealed his team would drive the project for launch in 2016, there was intermittent chatter that certain FAs in the region were not behind the competition.

Some wondered why the likes of the Thai and Malaysia football associations would be behind the ASL when it could possibly detract from their own domestic leagues, which were growing.

In an interview with The New Paper, Zainudin emphatically quashed all speculation when he stated that all countries in South-east Asia have agreed to the formation of the ASL, which is on course to kick off in 2016.

Zainudin, who is leading the committee that is working on the ASL blueprint, revealed that they were now waiting on world football's governing body Fifa to sanction the competition.

"We are making good progress and will likely get a clear indication from Fifa soon," said Zainudin.

"The ASEAN Football Confederation has approved it and we have all the member associations of ASEAN on board, including Thailand. The Thai FA president is in full support of the ASL.

"When Fifa signs off on it, we can discuss the structure and schedule of the competition."

If given the nod by Fifa, the ASL will mean an even more crowded football calendar - with Singapore having to fit in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League and quite possibly the LionsXII's continued participation in the Malaysian Super League (MSL).

Zainudin revealed that the ASL will run from seven to nine months, although he admitted that some FAs differed on when exactly the competition should start.

"We're going to get information from all the leagues, put it in the framework, and see how we can make it happen," he said.

"The key is to provide more competitions so the national teams can improve.

"You can't have the ASL run for too long, because there must be enough international matches for the national teams.

"Seven to nine months will be just nice."

On the cusp of its 20th season, the S.League - the only professional sports league in the Republic - is in the throes of a major review as it looks to the future.

Started in December, the review involves the FAS, clubs, sponsors and even fans.

Several key changes are being bandied about, including the possibility of privatising clubs, and Zainudin said the FAS will soon determine what shape the S.League will take, pending extensive discussions.

"In my view, after 20 years, the S.League has done decently," said the football chief.

"It is not a perfect product, (but) most countries have gone through cycles where the league was ailing, even the Thai and Malaysian leagues.

"The question now is whether the S.League is sustainable as it is.

"This review is meant for a few hard questions: Should we have a professional league or semi-pro, and should this be a government and FAS-driven thing or privately run, or a hybrid model like in the US.

"It's actually a huge review. As of now, we do not have a clear vision yet but we need to reflect and examine everything with all the stakeholders.

"The single objective is improving the league and football. So we are open to anything, even to someone from outside the FAS running it."

Zainudin is confident the S.League, the LionsXII and a Singapore team in the ASL can co-exist, stressing that the ASL side will be the strongest local club.

"It will be like the LionsXII plus; almost like our pseudo-national team with a sprinkling of top-notch foreigners," he said.

CRITICISM

Since Singapore's return to the MSL in 2012, some fans have criticised the creation of the LionsXII, arguing that the competition hurts the S.League.

If the ASL is launched, the S.League could be pushed further down the pecking order.

But Zainudin explained: "The fans must understand that the S.League, LionsXII and ASL are all building blocks for the national team.

"We are confident our S.League is good and can compete with any MSL team, but it's not just about quality.

"It's about atmosphere and experience. I don't have the 20,000 or 30,000 fans that will go to stadiums (like some other countries) and I need our young players to be exposed to that kind of atmosphere so they don't get overwhelmed when they get to international matches.

"You have to weigh the pros and cons.

"With the LionsXII, there is a lot more coverage of local football. On top of the 5,000 or so fans at Jalan Besar Stadium (for home games), the matches reached out to about 600,000 people on TV as well.

"The trickle-down effect is what we want, where interest spills over to the S.League. We hope the ASL has the same effect - greater coverage and more interest in local football."

aakasim@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Feb 24, 2015.
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