Healthy debate on S-League, says Lim

The S-League remains united with the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) in finding the best way forward for the embattled competition, its chief executive Lim Chin said in a statement issued late last night.

In response to a Straits Times article published yesterday, the former army colonel stressed that producing a strong national team remains the main priority for the country's only professional sports league.

His remarks came after S-League club chairmen and FAS bigwigs were engaged in a heated debate during a closed-door meeting on Monday.

The chairmen's concern is that both the LionsXII (who feature in the Malaysian Super League) and the Courts Young Lions (a team largely comprising the best under-23 players in the country who play in the S-League) are depriving the clubs of the country's best players, and therefore killing the league.

On the back of poor attendances and a national team who have yet to win in 2015, the 20-year-old S-League is looking for fresh ideas to engage disillusioned fans.

Lim said: "We are in the preliminary stages of discussion and exploring possibilities. At this stage, it is too preliminary to go into details on what form and shape the S-League will take in future.

He referred to Monday's meeting, which at times saw voices raised, as a "healthy debate", noting there will always be differences in views and opinions when it comes to issues and ideas.

In the same statement, Balestier Khalsa chairman S. Thavaneson said there was no "war of words" but just "strong views" put forth at the two-hour meeting.

He added that the club chairmen "stand united in wanting Singapore football to succeed".

Lim said feedback will be sought from other stakeholders and interest groups before a plan to rejuvenate the competition is put forth to Singapore Pools, the league's main backer.

It is believed that Pools foots the majority of the more than $800,000 subsidy a club is entitled to every year.

Lim also refuted claims from a chairman who, citing a Malaysia media report in 2013, said that Singapore national coach Bernd Stange does not go to S-League matches.

The article, written by veteran journalist Rizal Abdullah, quoted Stange as saying that he would "rather have a cup of coffee" than watch an S-League match, when asked about the influx of foreign players into the competition.

Jumping to the coach's defence, Lim claimed Stange was "a regular face at S-League and other local matches".

ST's report sparked spirited debate on social media and online forums, with many backing a proposal to scrap the LionsXII and return its national players to the S-League to boost its ranks.

ST reader Joseph Hooi, 72, said: "I recalled that when Lim Chin was recruited as the S-League supremo (in 2012), he announced with much public fanfare exciting changes to the league with envisaged improvements in all spectrums.

"Today, it has all proved a mere pipe dream."

In an e-mail to ST, another reader Stewart Sanjay wrote: "It is my opinion, this situation is akin to two bulls (S-League and LionsXII) pulling a bullock cart (FAS).

"Ideally, both these bulls need to move in the same direction to ensure the cart reaches its destination. However, now, both these bulls seem to have got their bearings wrong.

"The question that all the learned men have to ask themselves is, 'Will there be a winner in this row'?

"Well, the answer is no."

This article was first published on April 23, 2015.
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