Singapore 2017 AFC grassroots award brightens up depressing year
There was a silver lining to what has been a difficult year for the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) as they were declared Developing Member Association of the Year for their grassroots' efforts at the AFC Annual Awards in Bangkok.
The national side have failed to win a game in 2017, while the S.League continues to be dominated by Japanese invitees Albirex Niigata (S).
However, the AFC award indicates that work is being done to address the issues that have seen football in Singapore plunge into crisis.
FAS president Lim Kia Tong was on hand to accept the prize in front of an audience that included FIFA President Gianni Infantino, and AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa.
The FAS launched a successful grassroots football programme in March in association with Active SG's Football Academy.
The goal was to merge the academy's junior programme with the FAS' Cubs Programme to enhance coaching and participation for children between the ages of six and 12.
The exchange of expertise was designed to allow the Active SG Football Academy to manage the Active Cubs programmes, while the FAS assisted with providing knowledge and identifying talent.
The ultimate goal is provide a pathway that allows young talent to develop into the FAS elite programme.
The FAS also committed to supporting grassroots coaches by introducing new training programmes and opportunities for certification.
While the work at grassroots level has been recognised in the form of this award, the FAS recently confirmed that additional new measures were being put in place to help secure a better future for the game.
From 2018, all S.League sides are required to sign six under-23 players, and at least three of the U23 squad members must start every S.League match.
The FAS are also committed to increasing participation. They have set a target of increasing the number of students playing football from 3,000 this year to 10,000 by 2022.
This will involve offering resources and training to schools, the introduction of football to some school curricula, and the establishment of new 5-a-side leagues for under-10s and 8-a-side leagues for under-12s.
It remains to be seen if the FAS will be able to overcome any barriers to implementing their ambitions strategies, but the commitment is clearly there.
This commitment has now been recognised by the AFC president and vindicates what the FAS have been doing behind the scenes even if results on the park have not been the best in 2017.
Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK