• Thu. Oct 5th, 2023

A shambolic state of affairs – what led to the SEA Games football disaster?

Jun 30, 2023 ,

The Football Association of Singapore’s internal review into the 2023 Southeast Asian Games disaster should well paint a grim and dark picture of the state of the game in Singapore. 

And hopefully that helps them take action decisively.


Portions of the review, seen by TMSG through our sources, indicate that an overhaul of the national football body may well be in order.

TMSG is making this information gathered public so that the people in charge will be accountable, especially given that the national football body has itself convened the internal review following the disastrous SEA Games outing. 

Our intent is simple: provide as accurate as possible an unadulterated picture of what led to Singapore’s shocking implosion at the SEA Games where the Young Lions, led by national U23 head coach Philippe Aw, finished rock bottom in terms of performance, returning with only a single point after a draw with Laos. 

The Young Lions were smashed 7-0 by Malaysia in the final group match – a dead rubber – and also lost to Thailand and Vietnam.

And no, the intent isn’t to pin the blame on any single person with this, contrary to what the FAS believes, as evidenced in its hasty email note to all affiliates at approximately 7.50pm on 30 June.

This was followed by a social media post at about 8.10pm with a similar message. 

TMSG was also earlier served a note from FAS’ lawyers at about 7.45pm, asking that we not make public any reports which we may have seen or have possession of citing a “Breach of Confidence”.


It is not known when the FAS leadership led by interim President Bernard Tan will make the details of the review public.

TMSG is making information which has been sourced through interviews and other sources public so that the national body will be open, honest and transparent when it finally decides to release its details and recommendations, which was scheduled to be released within six weeks of the announcement of the review announced on 20 May – latest by 1 July. 

There needs to be accountability from the people in charge, given the extent of the details which have been made available through the review.

The FAS’ post-SEA Games review was conducted by Executive Committee (EXCO) member Razali Saad and Council members Lim Tong Hai and Harman Ali, supported by former national coach Jita Singh.

When justifying his review panel, Tan said in an interview with Mothership, “The people who are involved [in the panel], I trust them…they are people of integrity and they are people of honour. 

“And they love football. I don’t think they will mince their judgement. I am confident that they will come up with something.”


During the review, TMSG understands that it was discovered that there were no definite answers when the FAS leadership was asked about its strategic plan for the SEA Games. 

It is understood that there was “no clear strategic plan” set for Singapore’s 2023 SEA Games football teams.

The review also allegedly points to a failure in relationship between FAS Technical Director Michael Browne and U23 Head Coach Aw even though it was Browne who recommended that Aw lead the Young Lions, ahead of other candidates, like current Persikabo 1973 coach Aidil Sharin Sahak.

In addition, it was discovered that there were allegedly no scheduled meetings, whether weekly, fortnightly, or monthly, held between the various heads of departments at the FAS and the SEA Games management team in the lead up to the Games, and with no recorded meeting minutes defining the entire process for the team leading up to the Games.

This in somewhat bizarre.


Players interviewed felt there was a lack of preparation for the Merlion Cup which was held in Singapore just a month before the SEA Games.

Following the Merlion Cup where the Young Lions lost to both Hong Kong and Cambodia at the Jalan Besar Stadium, Aw told the media that “What is happening today is the result of 10 years ago.”

His problems began in the lead up to the Merlion Cup.

Evidently, the team only had three days of preparation for the tournament, and the players felt that there was not much emphasis placed on the competition, and that there was no urgency and the players didn’t feel they were preparing for a major competition.

Here’s the most shocking part of Singapore’s Merlion Cup campaign, according to multiple sources.

While teams competing at the Merlion Cup – Malaysia, Cambodia and Hong Kong were housed in a local hotel, the Singapore U23 team were shockingly not accorded the same treatment. 

This has also been confirmed by the players.

National U23 coach Aw was apparently informed that there was no budget to keep the team together in a hotel for the duration of the competition, and as a result, players turned up for games at different times. 

This went against tournament matchday norms of teams sharing a pre-game meal and sitting for briefings before leaving for the stadium.


Budget constraints were allegedly listed as a factor why the Young Lions could not be housed in a hotel for the Merlion Cup, however ludicrous that claim may be.

However, the review also allegedly discovered that while there were budget constraints for the Young Lions, funds were made available for non-technical personnel to travel the Cambodia SEA Games, even though those who travelled provided no support to the technical team.

It is not known what the justification for non-essential staff to travel to the SEA Games was, given that the budgets should have better been used to help the team prepare.

It was also alleged that the entire U23 team only gathered three days before heading to the SEA Games and only played one friendly match – against Geylang International.


How was this not made an issue if the entire leadership team should have been aware of how the team was preparing for such a major Games?

Aw himself should perhaps shoulder some of the blame for the state of affairs, unfortunately, if he did not raise the issue, and if he did and no action was taken to help him, then heads should well roll.


Prior to the commencement of centralised training – just 10 days to the SEA Games – national U23 head coach Aw was allegedly informed by an EXCO member that Technical Director Michael Browne would be involved in the selection, training and would henceforth allegedly have a hand in leading the SEA Games Team.

This was following the Merlion Cup, when Aw said to local media that the issues facing Singapore football was from the failures from 10 years ago.

Browne subsequently had a meeting with the SEA Games coaching and technical staff, including Aw and the aforementioned EXCO member to brief them on his involvement that included him taking charge of some training sessions.

However, Aw was not agreeable to this new arrangement and left the meeting in a huff, and this was confirmed by a source who was at FAS’ Jalan Besar headquarters when this happened.

Browne evidently then decided not to interfere with the team’s preparation and thus left it to Aw to manage and prepare for the Games as this was only 10 days away from the start of competition. 

This particular EXCO member is allegedly not named in the SEA Games review even though it was brought up.


It is widely expected that national U23 coach Phillippe Aw will take the fall for the SEA Games disaster, with Nazri Nasir most likely to be selected over Geylang International coach Mohd Noor Ali for the position.


But would that be fair?

Details shared have been damning and surely demands a lot more than just having one person take the rap for what appears to be a failure of an entire organisation and its entire hierarchy. 

Singapore’s 2023 SEA Games football disaster is not a black swan event – the team has not been able to make the semi-finals since 2013.

From 2015, coaches the likes of Aide Iskandar, Richard Tardy, Fandi Ahmad, Nazri Nasir and now Aw, have failed to lead Singapore out of the group stage of the biennial Games.


Aw may end up being a scapegoat for what appears to be a system which needs a complete overhaul.

Right from the very top and at every level that follows below. 


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