Acting president of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) Bernard Tan has asked Singaporeans to give the association "some space" as it navigates through the post-SEA Games landscape.
Tan gave his reasons for the choice of his review panel members and also explained why the FAS decided to pull the Young Lions out of international tournaments, in an interview with Mothership on Tuesday (May 23).
Why the review panel members were chosen
On the SEA Games review panel, Tan told Mothership that he wanted FAS to be "introspective" and look at itself critically.
Why is the FAS put under the spotlight this time?
Dismal performance at the 32nd SEA Games
While FAS is not new to criticisms from the public, the association came under intense scrutiny most recently after the performance of the Singapore men's football team at the 32nd SEA Games in Cambodia.
The Young Lions exited the Games at the bottom of Group B with no wins, and they experienced their heaviest defeat in a decade when they lost 0-7 to Malaysia in their last match.
The team only scored two goals in the entire campaign, which included an own goal from Vietnam.
Introduction of review panel
With tensions already running high and fans demanding FAS to take accountability, Tan announced on May 20 that a review panel will be convened to look into the Young Lions's performance at the SEA Games.
The panel will be headed by former national head coach Jita Singh.
Singh is a decorated coach who led the Lions to the 1980 Malaysia Cup triumph and SEA Games silver medals in 1983 and 1989.
Three FAS council members are also involved— FAS vice president Razali Saad, former national footballer Lim Tong Hai, and football academy coach Harman Ali.
Another wave of criticism was directed at FAS following the announcement of the review panel.
Some netizens questioned how and why the members of the panel were chosen, and called for it to be independent of FAS.
Tan explained that the panel will be given four weeks to conduct their review, after which their report will be discussed in-house for two weeks.
The ensuing recommendations will subsequently be released publicly.
Tan also said that the players will not be competing in any international tournaments until the review is complete. Fans online again expressed their disapprovals at this decision, saying that by doing so, it seems as though FAS is punishing the players.
FAS acting president explains the decisions made
Speaking to Mothership, Tan asked for Singaporeans to give FAS "some space" as it attempts to address the issues pertaining to Singapore's football system.
"I think it's very easy now to attack an organisation when it's at its lowest point," he said.
Why the review panel members were chosen
With regards to the SEA Games review panel, Tan told Mothership that first of all, he wanted FAS to be "introspective" and look at itself critically.
"If I ask somebody external to look critically at us, I'm not sure we [will] accept everything that people will say. I think if we are more self-critical, I think we can accept a lot more."
Tan explained that the panel members who were chosen are "not your average council members" as they are volunteers and lovers of Singapore football.
"You can ask anybody who is involved in football whether these people have integrity and whether they have the love of Singapore football in their head. I think that is the case."
Second, Tan said that he wanted to create a "safe space" so that others will be more willing to talk and be honest when the review is being conducted.
"To create this safe space, I need to make sure that it's done by people in the FAS who care for the organisation and more importantly, [they] care for the people in the organisation. And [the chosen members] do that.
Third, Tan wanted people with independent minds and integrity to be in the panel.
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."
To also ensure that the panel has an external point of view, Tan appointed Singh, whom he spoke highly of.
"I think for people to cast aspersions on either [Singh's] intentions or his credentials is just disrespectful to him. He's done so much for Singapore football. When I spoke to him, he was very happy to help. He promised to be objective and he promised to be hard."
Tan was addressing netizens' criticisms who pointed out that Singh's last coaching stint was a number of years ago.
Tan added that one should celebrate for being able to get Singh to volunteer for the assignment in the first place.
The review panel has been given the authority to call any resource person that they want, Tan said, adding that the FAS technical director will "definitely be involved".
Why the players are not competing in international tournaments
When asked why FAS decided to pull the Young Lions out of international tournaments until the review is complete, Tan told Mothership that the review will not go beyond June 2023.
The only tournament the players will miss out on is the AFF Under-23 Championship.
Even so, Tan said that the decision to withdraw from the AFF was made before the SEA Games due to scheduling issues as the tournament was brought forward from November to August.
FAS had already notified AFF, he added.
"The draw for AFF is going to take place at the end of this month for an August tournament, we have just asked the AFF to leave us out of the draw. I think that's the correct thing to do [to have a breather]," Tan said.
He explained that he has talked to some of the players following their 0-7 loss to Malaysia at the SEA Games.
"[The players] are shell shocked," said Tan, adding that they need time to calm down and restore their confidence to participate again.
By pulling the players out of international tournaments for now, Tan said that this will take the pressure off their shoulders and let them recover.
"The criticism is that we are punishing the players. I think nothing could be further from the truth.
I think it's foolish having lost a battle in the way that we did, to then put [the players] into battle again when you don't even arm them or prepare them. I think that's a very foolish thing to do."
Tan added that once the review is complete, FAS will work together with the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) to see how they can better prepare the players for the 19th Asian Games and the Under-23 Asian Cup qualifiers later this year.
Top image via Mothership.