Why is Singapore’s soccer team so terrible?

TL;DR – Just forget it lah.

Kids playing football at HYFA. Image from HYFA’s Facebook page

There are some things that many people would swear and fight tooth and nail to say that Singapore does poorly in. Like Journalism standards.

Football is another.

Singapore’s men’s football team’s ranking on the FIFA ranking has been plummeting over the last few years. We are currently ranked 165 out of 205 teams. It’s our worst ranking ever.

Singapore’s FIFA ranking. Image from FIFA

This is a very far cry from Goal 2010 set by then-PM Goh Chok Tong back in 1998. For those who don’t remember, that was when then-PM Goh set the objective of our football team to reach the 2010 World Cup Finals. You can read his speech here. We were a long way from that goal then. We are further from it now. In fact, looking at the dismal state of football in Singapore, it is as if we had deliberately set out to destroy soccer, not nurture it.

What happened?

Many things. From poor leadership to lack of funding, there is a plethora of reasons that contribute to the (nearly a) joke of a national football team that we have. But recently, an event highlighted what we think to be a major reason why we will never get to play in the World Cup Finals.

NIMBY culture just not conducive for football

The event was the injunction that the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) slapped on the Home United Youth Football Academy (HYFA). That injunction restricts operations on two of HYFA’s pitches. SLA acted because there were complaints from nearby residents about noise. This means that HYFA has to cease operations of two 11-a-side pitches during weekends, and they can only be used up to 7pm on weekdays.

Was the noise really so bad?

Apparently not. A petition against HYFA was started last year by a resident who lives nearby. But it only gathered signatures from five families. That’s right. Only five out of don’t know how many hundreds of families staying there. And just for those five families SLA decided to slap an injunction on HYFA, an action that affects about 1,200 children who play there. Can someone say “no sense of proportion”?

And it’s not as if HYFA was doing anything out of the ordinary. That area WAS demarcated by URA for sporting activities. The detailed plans for the HYFA facilities were approved by the authorities in 2014. And they have been using the facilities according to the plans submitted.

So what gives? We want to have a good football team, but the kids, who would be the future of our football teams, have to train somewhere, anywhere, but just not in my backyward (NIMBY)? If that’s the case, how do we expect to have a credible football team?

As if that’s not bad enough…

To add insult to injury, SLA is still collecting full rent from HYFA. HYFA renewed its lease with SLA last year. The lease is set to expire in 2019. And, despite this injunction, HYFA still has to continue to pay monthly rental fee in excess of $30,000.

Let’s take some time to process this. Just because a handful of families were unhappy with “noise” from kids playing soccer, the government unilaterally changed the terms of land usage very early in the midst of a 3-year lease and with no compensation, but instead still expecting to be paid full rent. 

There are many things wrong with this.

It shows a possible failure in planning. Rather than have something like this happen, wouldn’t it have been better to NOT designate that land for sporting activities in the first place? So has someone up there somewhere made a mistake and now wants HYFA to bear the cost of that screw-up?

Ok. Fine. Things change. There may be situations when the government decides that a piece of land is no longer appropriate for the use it was originally set aside for. But is it right to take such unilateral action? Even when the government appropriates land for the construction of an MRT station – a case where the private good is subjugated to the public good – ample notice is given, and owners are compensated at supposedly fair market value.

So why is it that SLA was so heavy-handed in dealing with HYFA? Why was there no room for negotiation? Were there really no other options? Or were people in SLA simply too erm laidback to come up with other options?

Whatever the case is, if this is how it’s going to be, then Singapore can forget about ever playing in the World Cup Finals.

Updated 2017.01.21 Contract breaches the real reason behind SLA’s decision?


Author: Jake Koh

Recovering sushi addict, I'm a man of mystery and power, whose power is exceeded only by his mystery.


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