SINGAPORE - The Lions have a found a new mate in the skies, as AirAsia took off as the official airline of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) on Wednesday.
Under a three-year, $1.8 million deal, the regional budget carrier will sponsor flights for the Republic's national and youth teams, as well as facilitate overseas training stints for local youngsters and coaches.
There will also be discounted travel packages for Singapore fans, while local footballers will appear on some of the airline's promotional material, such as its in-flight magazine.
The tie-up, which was first revealed by The Straits Times in January, replaces the FAS' previous arrangement with Tiger Airways - worth $150,000 in kind - that ended last April.
Speaking to reporters at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Wednesday, AirAsia owner Tony Fernandes described the deal, which will see the Lions' training kits adorned with the airline's logo, as its "biggest and most in-depth" sports sponsorship to date.
The Malaysia-based company is the title sponsor of the ASEAN Basketball League and also chartered flights for the Malaysian football squad during last year's ASEAN Football Championship.
But, in his own words, Fernandes does not see himself as a "prostitute" for investing in football across the Causeway and is prepared to deal with any backlash from fellow Malaysians.
The flamboyant entrepreneur added that the tie-up was a "marriage made in heaven" as AirAsia's red-and-white aircraft livery is only missing the stars and crescent moon to look like the Singapore flag.
"FAS came up with a great proposal and I was impressed by their passion for developing the youth," said the Kuala Lumpur native, 49. "We should not be divided by borders; I see ourselves as one big ASEAN community, so we should help each other whenever we can and this was one such perfect opportunity."
FAS president Zainudin Nordin concurred, saying: "We need to put national passion and rivalry in perspective. AirAsia can benefit from supporting us and vice-versa, so it's a good deal for both sides."
The airline flies to more than 70 destinations across Asia, including China, India and Japan.
The route will serve the Singapore teams well when they travel across the region to compete in the World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers, or for continental youth competitions.
The absence of an official airline - particularly for the national team - was highlighted during the Lions' victorious AFF Suzuki Cup campaign in December.
Then, the team travelled to Manila for their semi-final against the Philippines via Philippine Airlines for budget reasons.
Leveraging on Fernandes' position as chairman of English Championship club Queens Park Rangers (QPR), the deal will also enable selected Singaporean youngsters and coaches to hone their skills in Britain.
Fernandes said: "Youth development is a major part of this tie-up, so we'll invite FAS whenever opportunities arise."
"Singapore players and coaches can learn so much from spending a few months with our manager Harry Redknapp, who is one of the best in the world at what he does. Now that's something money can't buy."
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