Parliament discusses floundering interest in S.League

Acting Minister Lawrence Wong addressed the state of the league in the Committee of Supply debate and admitted there's stiff competition from LionsXII and Asean Super League
Members of the Singapore parliament discussed the state of the S.League and the troubles it has faced over lack of fan interest in the 2014 Committe of Supply debate.

The debate, held from March 5 to 13, is part of the annual budget approval process, and commences after the presentation and debate of the Budget Statement. Over the course of the Committee of Supply debate, Members of Parliament (MPs) may file questions to relevant Ministries over their policies.

The topic arose after the filing of a question from Workers Party Member of Parliament (MP) for Aljunied, Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap, on March 11, where he raised the issue of rejuvenating interest in the league as well as improving the standard of play.

In his written statement, Faisal pointed out that the last game of the opening season in 1996, between Singapore Armed Forces Football Club and Geylang United (now Warriors FC and Geylang International respectively) drew 30,000 fans, a record that still stands after almost 18 years.

He also highlighted the mixed results drawn from the addition of foreign teams to the S.League. Since  2003, 10 foreign clubs, including three that were locally formed but featured an all-foreign squad, have plied their trade in the league. Currently, Albirex Niigata (S), Brunei DPMM and Harimau Muda are the only remaining foreign teams.

Additionally, Faisal suggested that the clubs could benefit from a reshuffling and renaming process in accordance with the electoral boundaries map for greater identity with the fanbase.

"I would like to propose to the ministry to consider reshuffling and renaming the participating teams in accordance to the town they are geographically located, using the electoral boundaries map as the basis for this delineation," read his query. "I am of the view that this would foster a greater sense of belonging among the residents living in the community as the football club would then be seen as an integral part of the local ecosystem and a source of pride for the residents."

Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Lawrence Wong addressed his statement in Parliament on the same day. Wong assured that the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) are concerned of the problem but admitted that the success of the S.League was hampered by the presence of the LionsXII in the Malaysia Super League and potentially, the upcoming Asean Super League (ASL) which will be held at the new Sports Hub.

He reiterated the need for a 'vibrant domestic league that will serve as a broader development platform for our own footballers' and stated that a joint taskforce will look into the issue.

"So the FAS and the Sports Council have set up a joint taskforce to study how we can raise the standard of Singapore football, and build more interest in the sport including in the S.League," said Wong in parliament. "And indeed one of their initial ideas is to see how the S.League clubs can be better integrated with the community."

Wong acknowledged that a number of S.League clubs do not play in a location matching their name, citing Eastern club, Tampines Rovers, who are currently based in the West at Clementi Stadium.

"One of the issues today is that the S.League clubs do not play in where they are located, Tampines Rovers don’t play in Tampines but they play in Clementi,"he said. "But it is also partly a consequence of our facilities and as we build up more facilities, have more stadiums, then we can look at locating these clubs where they are relevant and also building up the community following in these clubs. So these are ideas that FAS and the Sports Council are looking at through the joint taskforce."

The current season of the S.League is into its third round of action with new initiatives promised for the season ahead to draw fan interest.