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Barbs that officials go on paid overseas trips unfair, says former FAS VP

Barbs that officials go on paid overseas trips unfair, says former FAS VP
Lim dispelled the notion that travels to DC hearings are in any way financially rewarding. TODAY file photo

Barbs that officials go on paid overseas trips unfair, says former FAS VP

Lim Kia Tong explains reasons for constant travels as council member

SINGAPORE — Former Football Association of Singapore (FAS) vice-president Lim Kia Tong, who is spearheading a team to contest the upcoming FAS elections, has come out to address recent online barbs about his constant overseas travels during his tenure on the previous FAS council.

Recent online comments had suggested that Lim and other council members had leveraged their positions to go on frequent “sponsored” trips to international football functions.

The most public of these were made by freelance journalist Suresh Nair, who is contesting an individual seat in the FAS council at the April 29 elections as part of Team Game Changers, which is headed by Hougang United chairman Bill Ng.

In articles published in The Independent, a Singapore news website, and Sport 247, a Malaysian sports news site, Suresh wrote that the top FAS management were “holding high office just to capitalise on the gratis overseas trips from Fifa and AFC rather than seriously promoting the No 1 sport among the grassroots clubs”.

He also questioned in these articles whether former FAS council members such as Lim were “reluctant to give way ... because of the special travel perks, fringe benefits or other board incentives they discreetly enjoy, or some ‘pot of gold’ that they wish not to let go”.

The articles were written before it was announced that Suresh would be running for the FAS elections as an independent candidate aligned to Ng’s team.

TODAY reached out to Team Game Changers for their thoughts on Suresh’s comments, but they did not reply by press time.

When contacted, Lim said that, as the chairman of the Asian Football Confederation’s disciplinary committee (DC), and deputy chairman of the same committee in world governing body Fifa, he travels overseas regularly to preside over football disciplinary matters.

“At every DC session, more often than not, the number of cases is enormous, sometimes we hit 60-over cases,” said the 64-year-old who is with law firm Hin Tan Augustine & Partners.

“Some of them are complex. It means that each person, especially myself as deputy chairman, must be conversant with the facts and the law pertaining to all the cases. I would need to be well-prepared for the hearings. So there is a lot of time spent preparing for DC hearings.”

Lim added that these trips usually have a short turnover, and dispelled the notion that they are in any way financially rewarding.

“We usually fly there, and in Fifa’s case, it means all the way to Zurich. We hit the meetings straight, and by the next morning, we’re back on the return flight,” he said.

“Some members fly back on the same day of the meeting because of their commitments back home.

“A lot of our personal time is used to carry out our duties … and it is all done while juggling our careers and family time.”

When asked, Lim said he gets US$250 (S$349) a day for his Fifa duties. “I can tell you that the allowance is nowhere close to what I can earn as a lawyer,” he said.

Lim was also asked how he felt about the online barbs. He replied: “Sometimes when we hear such criticism being levelled against us, we keep quiet and not speak out because we don’t want to seem to be on the defensive. But maybe it’s good for it to be made known publicly that being in the council is not about enjoying perks and benefits.”

Lim has also been criticised for not being a regular attendee of S.League games or grassroots football events despite being an FAS vice-president.

However, Lim countered that these occasions were usually attended by an appropriate FAS official.

“The president or vice-president is usually not at every event,” said Lim.

“Different members have their own portfolios, after all. For instance, the chairman of the medical committee’s job is to ensure that area is taken care of in the entire local footballing ecosystem, and not just in the S.League. So he’s not required to be present at all S.League matches.”

When asked if it was necessary for FAS council members to travel regularly to international football events, Lim said: “In football, international relations is so important.

“We definitely cannot just stay within the boundaries of Singapore. We must have international relations to gain necessary contacts and to show that we can contribute as well to international football in our own ways.”