Singapore to begin national project to lift standard of football: Edwin Tong

SINGAPORE — Singapore is embarking on a national project on football, seeking to unite Singaporeans via excellence in the sport, more than a decade after the end of the Goal 2010 initiative.

Under this project, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), Sport Singapore (SportSG) and Football Association of Singapore (FAS) will create opportunities for young Singaporeans – boys and girls – to go through a sustained and structured high-quality football training supported by strong coaching, sports science and technology.

They will also create clear talents pathways, through school education and national service, for those who wish to continue as professional footballers in their adulthood.

The project was announced in Parliament on Monday (8 March) by Minister for Culture, Community and Sports Edwin Tong, during his ministry's Committee of Supply debate.

"Our football is not quite where we would like it to be. We can do more, and we can do better, to bring back the Kallang Roar, and give our young Lions every opportunity to pursue their dreams," he said.

"Uplifting Singapore football is a national project, and I encourage all of us to rally around our common goal. We will do our best to build a sustainable and resilient football ecosystem which Singaporeans can be proud of."

The Singapore national football team.
The Singapore national football team. (FILE PHOTO: Yahoo News Singapore)

While Tong had said last year of the ambition of the national football team qualifying for the 2034 World Cup Finals, there was no mention of this target during his speech in Parliament.

Yahoo News Singapore understands that, while the 2034 World Cup is a significant milestone in gauging the success of this national project, the project to develop the football ecosystem will continue regardless of whether Singapore qualifies for the elite tournament.

Eight pillars to lift football standards

The football project will adopt a phased approach. The first phase, taking place over the next two years, will aim to lay the foundation for Singapore’s football teams across age groups to be more competitive on the regional and international stages.

The implementation will focus on eight pillars:

  1. Let Them Play: FAS will establish a standardised National Football Curriculum to be adopted by football co-curricular activities (CCA) in primary schools, and increase the number of qualified football coaches in schools. Character development will also be a key feature that will be integrated into programmes. Besides schools, the National Football Curriculum will also be made accessible to all public and private football clubs and academies.

  2. Let Them Soar: In partnership with the Ministry of Education (MOE), School Football Academies (SFAs) with enhanced coaching support will be established in selected secondary schools. An elite youth league will be organised to grow more opportunities at different ability levels.

  3. Scholarships: MCCY will explore partnering overseas football academies with links to professional football clubs that offer a concurrent academic track. FAS could also attract the academies of top European clubs to Singapore. Developing young footballers while supporting their academic development will provide assurance to youths and their parents that there is a viable pathway to pursuing football professionally.

  4. National Service (NS): MCCY is working with Ministry of Defence (Mindef) to tap support avenues for eligible footballers, including early enlistment, leave and time-off for national servicemen to train in the sport, as well as opportunities to continue training and playing at top levels while fulfilling their NS obligations.

  5. Enhanced technical capacity and capability: SportSG and FAS will raise the overall capabilities of coaches, all of whom will be trained to teach the National Football Curriculum. They will also establish scouting and talent identification networks locally and overseas, and link up local talents with overseas clubs that will provide them high-quality developmental opportunities.

  6. Science and technology: The project will adopt a technology-rich and data-driven approach to raise the performance of athletes and sharpen talent identification and tracking.

  7. Infrastructure: SportSG will enhance existing infrastructure and maximise playable spaces, so that more can play, and more often.

  8. Whole-of-society partnership: MCCY calls on the support of all Singaporeans to come together to achieve the project's goals of football excellence. It hopes Singaporeans will cheer on the Lions, and unite behind them in their matches. It encourages corporations to step forward with their resources.

"Whatever your views of the state of football now, I ask for your support as we reimagine and re-energise Singapore football," MCCY Parliamentary Secretary Eric Chua said.

SportSG and FAS will be sharing more details of this project after MCCY’s COS debate.

Goal 2010 initiative could not lift Lions to World Cup

Singapore had first embarked on a national initiative on football in 1998, when then-prime minister Goh Chok Tong set the "Goal 2010" initiative in an ambitious bid to propel the Lions to qualify for the 2010 World Cup Finals.

Goh had envisioned a national football team enhanced by naturalised foreign talents, just as France had won the 1998 World Cup with players with foreign roots such as Zinedine Zidane (Algeria) and Marcel Desailly (Ghana).

While Singapore did find success in regional tournaments such as the Asean Football Federation Cup (2004, 2007 and 2012), it found qualification for the World Cup – as well as the Asian Cup – a bridge too far, even with foreign talents such as Egmar Goncalves (Brazil), Mirko Grabovac (Croatia), Daniel Bennett (England), Shi Jiayi, Qiu Li (both China), Agu Casmir, Itimi Dickson and Precious Emuejeraye (all Nigeria).

Follow the Lions' last regional triumph in the AFF Cup in 2012, the Lions have floundered badly. They have failed to qualify for the semi-finals of every AFF Cup tournament since 2012, and have come up empty in their quest for a first SEA Games football gold medal. Singapore has not qualified for either the World Cup or the Asian Cup since the Goal 2010 project ended.

The Lions are currently 158th in the Fifa world rankings, sandwiched between minnows The Gambia and Dominican Republic. Their all-time highest ranking was world No. 75, achieved back in 1993.

Asia's current best football nation is Japan at No. 27, while Vietnam is Southeast Asia's best at No. 93.

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