Through their own announcement when Unleash The Roar! (UTR) as a project was launched, the wheels to get the Singapore Premier League (SPL) privatised should already be in motion.
However, it now appears that the privatisation of the SPL, listed under Pillar Five of the UTR project, has hit a solid brick wall.
See full list of all UTR pillars here.
Based on the timelines provided during the announcement, the conditions for privatisation of the league were supposed to be in place by 2022 and with implementation to take place between 2023 and 2027.
2023 is almost at mid-point, and with various sources indicating that the plan was to have the privatisation kick in, in 2024.
But now even that time frame seems to be off the table as there appears to be resistance from certain individuals within the Football Association of Singapore’s (FAS) decision-making body, with the arguments suggesting that privatisation of the SPL in Singapore will not be able to work given the small population and lack of commercial interest.
This is disputed, though, on the back of a report completed by global management consultancy Portas, which was hired to assess the commercial viability of privatising the SPL.
The UTR project is being led by chairman and Senior Parliamentary Secretary (SPS) Eric Chua, who is a first-term Member of Parliament, with both FAS Acting President Bernard Tan and CEO of Sport Singapore (SportSG) Alan Goh as Deputy Co-Chairs.
Goh took over the role of SportSG CEO from the outgoing Lim Teck Yin on 1 April 2023.
See list which was released in November 2021.
When the Lion City Sailors became the first privatised club in 2020, then-FAS President, the late Lim Kia Tong said, “I think that is the way Singapore professional football must go.
“We cannot, decade after decade, rely on the Government (for) a few hundred thousand (dollars)… to just manage a club.
“And of course, the additional money coming from sponsors, from jackpot machines and all that, which, actually to grow it at a higher level, may not be enough.”
TMSG posed queries to the Lion City Sailors about the potential delay in privatisation of the SPL and its impact to the development and competitiveness of the league.
In response, the club said that the “Sailors were built upon the vision of reinvigorating Singapore football through youth development and a drive for professionalism and excellence, a vision that is very much aligned with UTR! objectives.
“We remain committed to these principles, and indeed, are much inspired by positive signs that we are starting to see, with academy trainees coming through our system and breaking into our first team.
So, while the Sailors are committed, it appears that it is not the same among certain members of Singapore’s football leadership.
SPS Chua also made scant mention of the privatisation of the SPL in a recent podcast with the Straits Times, even though he was asked questions about the future of the SPL.
The Acting President of the FAS Bernard Tan should make public his position on the privatisation of the SPL, seen very much as integral part to developing football in Singapore.
ASSESSMENT BY GLOBAL MANAGEMENT FIRM NOT ACCEPTED BY FAS EXCO
Portas. a global management consultancy, was contracted by SportSG to provide an assessment of the way forward for privatising of the SPL, including its commercial viability.
For the UTR, the consultancy completed its work, and made its recommendations affirming the commercial viability of a privatised SPL, but these findings have not been accepted by the current FAS EXCO, according to TMSG sources.
“The FAS did not like the way the change was being forced upon them,” said a UTR committee member, on condition of anonymity.
“The reality on the ground appears to be that the FAS is not really keen to do anything with the current SPL because of legacy issues and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth will find it hard to push their own agenda given the complexities (of the situation) and personalities (involved),” an insider told TMSG.
“If only they end up working together and doing away with the squabbling and chest thumping, we could actually get somewhere soon,” the insider shared.
TMSG posed a set of queries to SPS Eric Chua, the chairman of the UTR project via email.
He did not respond to the queries at time of publishing.
THE UNLEASH THE ROAR! COMMUNICATIONS BLACK HOLE
One of the biggest issues impacting the UTR project for now is an extremely poor public communications strategy and perception management, given how the project was first hatched with a plan to qualify for the 2034 World Cup.
The plan was feasible, said current Culture, Community and Youth Minister Edwin Tong, but that positioning was later corrected to become an aspirational plan.
Operationally, UTR’s communications to the public have been patchy, to say the least.
Its own website has not been updated for more than a year.
The three stories on its website landing page were all published more than a year ago.
Scroll down a little, and this is what you will find.
So far, there has only been one profile interview – of national female footballer Lila Tan – in its “Half Time Talk” section which was also done a year or more ago.
When was the last time the website was updated?
What is UTR’s content strategy for outreach to the masses?
How is the public being kept abreast of developments apart from the once in a blue moon podcast or story pitch to the media?
The UTR’s social media outreach also offers very little for followers.
Its Facebook page has 851 followers so far, after two years of being set up, not exactly a national movement.
This is abysmal, and it is also obvious from the content that the team in charge does not have a clue on how to use social media to engage and provide content for public consumption.
Another observer also opined that the miniscule number of followers on social media also indicate that the “public has not been sold on the project at all” and “it is not a national movement, but someone’s weekend hobby.”
How much is UTR spending on its communications, given that it has also hired a consultant to oversee the project?
What are the deliverables and is there an aggressive communications plan for outreach and public consumption put in place?
ACCOUNTABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY
Over the last five financial cycles, FAS has been accorded almost $100 million in taxpayers’ funds and this does not include the expenditure under UTR.
How much more will be spent on UTR over the next few years?
How will the other pillars off UTR be operationalised?
Who takes responsibility if the project fails, given that both Edwin Tong and Eric Chua will in all likelihood be posted to different portfolios down the line if they continue to be voted into office?
The FAS or SportSG, or MCCY?
These and many other questions should be addressed when the UTR team and its leadership, including SPS Eric Chua, meet stakeholders in an engagement session on 25 May at Suntec City.
The management of Singapore football is now a matter of national interest.
Even Madam Ho Ching, wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and former CEO of sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings, recently shared Singapore’s 7-0 loss to Malaysia on her Facebook page.
The stalled privatisation of the SPL will become a pillar unfulfilled by the UTR project.
What’s also troubling is that the recommendations made by the hired consultant have allegedly not been heeded.
The shambolic state of UTR communications also leaves lots to be desired, and is also another indicator that taxpayers’ funds are being wasted on a project which no one seems to be driving effectively, even if the public communications till now appears to be on the contrary.
The agencies involved need to be held accountable for the fiasco which is playing out right in front of fans and the general public, who are funding the sport through taxpayers’ contributions.
THIS STORY WAS VETTED BY TMSG’S LAWYERS BEFORE PUBLICATION, WITH CROSS CHECKS DONE ON ALL SOURCES WHO WERE APPROACHED FOR THIS ANALYSIS.
MAIN PHOTOS: TMSG, FAS, CNA