SINGAPORE: In all his 10 years of playing for the Republic’s national men’s floorball squad, Abdul Hafiz has always forked out his own money to participate in overseas competitions.
“It’s been tradition for so long, that when you go for tournaments, you know you have to pay your own way,” said the 26-year-old. “But this is my passion, and to represent my country on a world stage is a big thing for me.”
His is a situation shared by fellow national floorball players past and present - along with the same steadfast dedication to the sport amidst an unravelling financial mess that has engulfed the Singapore Floorball Association (SFA).
Last Wednesday (May 11), it was reported that SFA has not received annual funding for five years, due to its failure to submit audited accounts to statutory board Sport Singapore (SportSG). SFA also owes the International Floorball Federation over S$32,000.
The following Saturday (May 14), SportSG lodged a police report against SFA president Sani Mohamed Salim over alleged misappropriation of funds. The SFA then announced on Tuesday (May 17) that Sani had resigned and an interim president would be elected at the end of the month.
But the national men’s team claimed in their own statement released the same day that the damage had already been done, with “all but one” sponsor lost as it gears up for the World Championships in Latvia this December.
It added that without sponsorship or funding from SFA, the team will need approximately S$80,000 for flight tickets, accommodation, food, logistics and other expenses for the global tourney; translating to about S$3,000 per player.
“For now, the team continues to train while exploring all possible methods of raising funds,” said the media release. “But unless they come up with enough funds, the Singapore flag may not fly on the world stage come December.”
National floorballers play a friendly match during training (Photo: Justin Ong)
It is a dismal state of affairs for a sport which debuted at last year’s Southeast Asian (SEA) Games with gold medals for Singapore’s men and women. But the national men’s team - and their head coach Sonia Chia - remain determined to keep focused on training and preparing for their fourth go at the World Championships, having also previously qualified in 1996, 2010 and 2012.
“As players, most of us want to just focus on our career, play good floorball and keep improving,” said Alvin Tan, 22.
He added that even before making the national squad in 2013, he already knew that it was not funded, and echoed Hafiz’s sentiments by admitting that he never thought to question the status quo as “it has always been going on”.
Tan, currently a clerk in full-time National Service (NSF), has to fork out for daily training expenses such as food and transport - thus making it difficult for him to save up the projected S$3,000 required for the impending trip to the World Championships.
“I have no regrets, because this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to represent my country and to wear the Singapore flag,” Tan insisted.
Hafiz, who now works as a floorball coach, agreed. “Back when I was a student, I would try fundraising, or use my parents’ money, or work part-time while schooling and training. Some of the older, working players would try and help subsidise the younger ones like me,” he recalled.
“I may have had issues with money but it never stopped me from playing a sport I love.”
Veteran national floorballer Abdul Hafiz (Photo: Justin Ong)
Said team manager Desmond Tang: “The players are not paid to play, and must pay to play. For the layman, this mentality doesn’t make sense, so for them to do that, even in the midst of all these issues... Shows that it’s something more than just money.”
BUILDING A PIPELINE
Apart from the immediate concerns surrounding participation in the World Championships and the other pressing financial challenges, the sport faces what Tang described as a “huge” developmental gap between the grassroots level and the high-performance national squads.
Since its introduction to Singapore in 1994, floorball has carved out a thriving scene - with over 15,000 players, 200 schools and 100 clubs active across a multi-division league, various cup competitions and school tournaments from primary to tertiary level.
“Schools are more or less well-covered in terms of funding and coaches, up to the tertiary level, but thereafter more funds are needed to cover the gap,” the 31-year-old commented.
Of top priority is a proper training and competition venue, said both Tang and Chia, pointing to the example of how Singapore’s national bowlers went from needing to share public alleys to having their own facility late last year.
For now, the national squads and clubs alike have to rely on booking indoor sports halls at schools, said Chia, 32.
National floorballers in a friendly match during training (Photo: Justin Ong)
She also raised the need for proper planning to ensure that young players with potential do not miss out on joining the national ranks.
“For example, we used to have a combined schools team, but due to a lack of funding it wasn’t sustained. Such a team can recognise and encourage players to continue after 16, otherwise they’ll either get picked up by clubs or never get scouted,” Chia explained.
Hafiz and Tan echoed her sentiments in calling for more developmental support. “When I just started out, it was hard to get into the national squad because there was no development team to help me catch up with the big boys,” said Hafiz. “So new ones like me had to come in and try to play at the same level as them.”
“It would be good to have a proper pathway to progress up the ranks, and to provide exposure to the international scene too. Otherwise it’s hard for some of the kids, who can only rely on school tournaments to get better,” he added.
Emphasising the importance of a succession line, Tan called for more money to be spent on developing the skill levels of younger players. “An under-19 team, for instance, would be good, to have a consistent pipeline and growth,” he said.
“Otherwise we really have to work on our own to reach a level good enough for the national team. When I was a secondary school and polytechnic player, the only person I could count on was myself.”
For all their financial and developmental woes, Hafiz and Tan can call themselves SEA Games champions, and if they make the cut for the World Championships squad, competitors at the highest level. Proof, then, that passion goes a long way in sport.
National floorballers during a practice session. (Photo: Justin Ong)