Can a new Football Association general secretary revive Singapore football's fortunes?

Can a new Football Association general secretary revive Singapore football's fortunes?

Local football needs a passionate taskmaster, say current and former football officials that Channel NewsAsia spoke to.

Winston Lee
File picture of Winston Lee. (Photo: TODAY) 

SINGAPORE: The search is on for a new general secretary of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), one of the key leaders in the local game. 

Last week, Winston Lee announced his resignation from the position after a nine-year stint, ending his 18-year career with the FAS.

From the end of December, deputy general secretary Yazeen Buhari will take over as acting general secretary while a search is carried out for a permanent replacement.

Lee's departure opens the door to recruiting a fresh face in the role at a time when football in Singapore is seen to be in the doldrums.

The national side has had a bad year, failing to win a single match and falling down the global rankings to a record low.

And the S.League continues to struggle against a wave of apathy among local football fans as low player wages and declining interest in playing the sport present key hurdles for its development.

Winston Lee Zainudin Nordin
FAS general secretary Winston Lee (left) is seen here with then-FAS president Zainudin Nordin in a file photo. (Photo: TODAY)

Those within Singapore's footballing fraternity that Channel NewsAsia spoke to see this as an ideal opportunity for someone to help to breathe new life into the sport.


Unlike the voluntary and elected positions such as those in the FAS Council as well as in the executive commitee, the general secretary’s role in the FAS is a paid position which oversees daily operations.

“The general secretary’s role is something like being the CEO of football,” said the FAS’ Yazeen. “The Secretariat heads the administration, and the general secretary is more of a chief administrator."

The heads of the different administrative departments within the FAS, such as  marketing, communications and competitions, also report to the general secretary. However, he does not set the vision and mission of the FAS, but rather its execution.

“You can liken it to being the commanding officer in an army unit, where the president of the FAS is something like a chief-of-army,” said a former FAS official who declined to be named.

The position also entails having a say in high-profile decisions within the FAS. “The general secretary is usually the first layer of approval in major decisions such as the hiring of coaches. He then presents his proposals to the president and the exco members, who will then have the final say,” said the former official.

“In the previous FAS Strategic Plan, the general secretary’s role was to also oversee the execution of the Plan to meet the various objectives,”he said.

In April 2010, the FAS unveiled its Strategic Plan,which was supposed to lift the local game over a five-year timespan.

Among the various areas which the FAS planned to improve were youth development, the national teams and improving football facilities, with the main aim of raising Singapore football to be in the top-15 in Asia.

Former FAS president Zainudin Nordin said in 2010: "The essence of our 2010-2015 game strategy is to identify emerging talents at a younger age and develop them through our National Football Syllabus and world class development plans that will focus on optimising the technical, tactical, physical and mental capabilities and capacities of our players."

Winston Lee with Zai and Stange pic
FAS general secretary Winston Lee (left) with former FAS president Zainudin Nordin and former national coach Bernd Stange (right). (File photo: Football Association of Singapore)

With the general secretary having such influence in charting the path for the local game, there are some who say Lee played a role in the current state of Singapore football. 

“I’m not the only one who’d say that Winston (Lee) has to definitely shoulder some of the blame. However, you’d have to consider as well that the upper leadership that he was working with weren’t as involved as they could have been,” added the official, who left the FAS in 2012.


Still, some within the game say that whoever replaces Lee has big shoes to fill. 

“I think to be fair to him, he wasn’t a one-man show running the FAS, as he was only the general secretary,” said Tanjong Pagar United chairman Edward Liu. 

“He answers to the council and the executive committee of FAS and I don’t think it is fair to point the finger at him and say that he is responsible for the current state of affairs,” said Liu.

Liu thinks that Lee’s departure will be a big loss to Singapore football. “I have known Winston for many years now, from the days that he was director of marketing, and later the CEO of the S-League, and then to his current post as the gen sec of the FAS.”

“I have found him to be very approachable, down-to-earth and very receptive of the ideas and suggestions from the football community,” added Liu.

“It is definitely a pity that we’ll be losing him officially, as he has wide connections as well as deep knowledge of football.

“It will be a waste if our national football association cannot benefit from him. I hope he will remain in the industry in some capacity, and to contribute to the development of football in Singapore,” he said.


Having worked with the Football Association of Singapore, former deputy director of development and planning Ridzal Sa’at thinks the next general secretary must have wide contacts in the footballing world.

“Winston (Lee) had strong connections locally and regionally,” said Ridzal, who left the FAS in July 2014. “During my time at the FAS, he was well respected by other football associations as well. He works his staff hard and is good at crisis management.

“The next general secretary should hire really strong and capable second-line managers, so that all aspects of the game are well managed,” he added.

Tanjong Pagar chairman Liu thinks the role demands a leader who would have to “slog it out” and at the same time be well-connected. “This person must also have the passion, because we are currently at the lowest level in Singapore. It will take a Herculean task to lift our football into the upper echelons,” he said.

“It won’t be a bed of roses, and it will be hard for the next general secretary to come on board. He must not be disheartened and it is a must for him to have the courage to rough it out for a couple of years.

“I also hope that he would have the emotional quotient (EQ) to be connected to the local football community first, before getting to know the region,” he added.

“One person cannot save football from its current condition. He must collectively work with the leadership in the FAS, who then have to work together and be responsible in putting things right.”

Source: CNA/fr