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Celebrating Achievements And Shaping The Future Of Women’s Football Together

Speech by Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth & Second Minister for Law at the Women’s Football Conference 2022

Mr Lim Kia Tong, President of the Football Association of Singapore
FAS Council members, 
Ladies and gentlemen,

  1. Thank you very much everyone, good morning. It is such a pleasure to be able to join you at this morning’s Women’s Football Conference. I think the fact that two things excite me as I walk into this room – the fact that we were able to do this and have a Women’s Football Conference, I think it’s to me a significant milestone. And the second, is of course we are gathered in a room where there are more than 5 people around the room. I have not been in a crowd like this for a while. This is a conference that is being held in commemoration of the Asian Football Confederation Women’s Football Day, and of course the International Women’s Day, which falls on next Tuesday, the 8th of March.
  2. Today’s event is I think one big, bold, exciting step towards the shaping of the future of women’s football and I think all of us should remember this day, remember this occasion. Look around, take some photographs, because I think if we work together and we put our minds to it and we take onboard the points that our three panellists have shared with us earlier today, I think in years to come, we will look upon this event as a true milestone event where we can break through and truly make women’s football in Singapore a force to be reckoned with.
  3. I was listening to Viviene earlier – I remembered everything that she said and I remembered the photographs as well and I was afraid that I might even need some of those photographs. I remembered her passion – she plays football and in fact, many of the names she mentioned, I knew who they are. And I think you need to have this kind of passion in our society, in our community to leave a change. And I hope all of you will be inspired by the different things you can do at the different levels to inspire the change right through.
     

    Growing Popularity of Women's Football Worldwide

  4. Historically, women’s football has not achieved the same level of popularity as men’s football. Over time, it faced significant structural difficulties, lower rates of participation, a lack of public awareness, and fewer platforms on which to pursue this ambition and the game. 
  5. Many aspiring and professional female football players have also had to battle the perception that professional football at least is the province and preserve of men, and girls and women simply can’t excel in this sport. 
  6. But I think we can say that this perception is just plain wrong. Internationally, the women's football scene has grown in accessibility, in quality of the sport, and also in the professionalism of the entire ecosystem and infrastructure around women’s football. The positive evolution of women’s football has, in fact, outpaced the development of men’s football in many ways. Let me give you some statistics.

    a. The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France was a resounding success, with more than a billion viewers tuning into its international broadcasts. And those were not the days when you could not attend, these are people who tuned in even though they could attend at the stadiums.

    b. The 2023 edition, which will be jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand, will see participation expanded from 24 to 32 national teams, giving more countries the opportunity to be represented at what has come to be regarded as a pre-eminent international football event.

    c. There is also greater interest and investment in professional women’s leagues throughout the world but I think in particular in Asia, that has picked up significantly. 

    d.  Such tournaments and leagues have produced a generation of talented female football players such as the South Korean Ji So-Yun and Spaniard Alexia Putellas – they have all inspired, like many of the role models in Singapore that you have heard earlier, countless young women to think positively and to know and believe that they can make it in this sport. 
     

    Progress of Women's Football In Singapore

  7. In Singapore, we have also seen encouraging progress in women’s football. Public interest and opportunities for participation and competition have been much higher. We can do better and aim much higher. Let me again cite some statistics.

    a. For one, football is now offered to girls as a co-curricular activity in many schools and tertiary institutions.

    b. Since 2014, the number of teams participating in women’s football leagues have more than doubled, from 8 to 20.

    c. The FAS’ Cubs Programme, which provides football coaching to girls between the ages of 5 and 12, has seen enrolment doubled from 40 in 2018 to 85 in 2019, just prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  8. At the same time, there has also been impressive progress at our Singapore women’s football elite level.

    a. Our national women’s football team will compete in this year’s SEA Games for the first time since 2003. That is a huge achievement, so congratulations to the team. I am confident that this very well-deserved opportunity to take part in Southeast Asia’s premier competition will offer them the exposure, the experience, and turbocharge the progress that they can make in this field. 

    b. Some of our talented Lionesses are here with us today and I want to wish you all the very best for the campaign. I think it starts in slightly over two months and I am certain that we will all be there to support you.

    c. Several members of our football sorority have also made their own mark both here and overseas as players, referees, coaches, and administrators. So, it’s no longer constrained to like what Viviene says, a half-time exhibition match. It is now a tournament of its own and women have made a career out of being administrators, referees, coaches and so on in the ecosystem around women’s football

    i) Siti Rosnani Azman is the first Singapore woman to play professionally in Japan’s Women Empowerment League, which is the top and the first fully professional women’s football league in the country. I met Nani when I was in Japan where I bumped into her as I was travelling on my way to the Olympics and we stopped by a place to stretch our legs after a long ride. Suddenly, I heard this voice that sounded so distinctively Singaporean, turned around, and I saw Nani. I think Eric was with me and I was so fascinated to hear about her journey and how she just took off – at that time, she was going to Kobe. And to be quite single-minded about your dream and your ambition was so refreshing. And I think again, this is something that I hope will inspire all of you. Anybody who is thinking of a making that cut, making that journey, just look at what Nani has done.

    ii) There’s also Angeline Chua, who gave a presentation on her work this morning, I think we saw her online. She is currently the Director of Women’s Football and Head Coach of the Women's Team at the Seychelles Football Federation. What she has said, what she has told us has given us a different perspective and given it a different meaning.

    iii) Yeong Sheau Shyan, who will also be here today, is Head Coach of the Lion City Sailors FC Women’s Team. Sheau Shyan is perhaps the most qualified female coach in Singapore. She already holds an advance coaching licence from the Asian Football Confederation and is pursuing an even higher tier of coaching credentials.

    iv) Putri Nur Syaliza and Danelle Tan are not just two of our most promising young female football players.  They are also our two youngest-ever goal scorers for the national senior team at the age of 14 years!  They are currently the first Singapore female players to be studying overseas on scholarships and pursuing their football dreams. Danelle was a classmate of my daughter so I have known her since she was nine or ten. And I remembered there was this occasion when my daughter was celebrating her birthday. So, we invited several guests over, Danelle was of them. I think from the time she stepped into my house until she left, she never had the ball out of her feet. Years later, when I met her and I made that connection that it was her, I was happy to see that she has again decided that she is going to be brave enough to strike out her own goals. She went through some trials and now she’s settled in London. And I think we look forward to many more chapters from her exciting journey.
  9. These names that I have just highlighted are just a small number of Singaporean women who have displayed the courage, never say die and let’s push the boundary attitude. I think we have to try as a group collectively to break these glass ceilings, we have to shatter the stereotypes that women can’t do as well or can’t perform or succeed at the same level as men. And particularly in the spirit of International Women’s Day, we must continue to rally together to build on their efforts to celebrate their achievements, so that more young women will look up to you, people will follow you behind your trail, look at you as role models, and more young girls will come and say that it is possible and make an attempt to try and do it.

    Developing Talented Young Women Footballers Through Unleash The Roar!

  10. One of the ways that we can do this is to establish high quality platforms to enable young girls to develop their skills, not an afterthought but really dedicated to thinking of what we need to do, specially curated to develop and enhance the skills of young women football players to ensure that we will continuously have a sustainable pipeline of strong women’s football talent coming through.

  11. And we are doing this through the Unleash the Roar! (UTR!) project, which is a multi-stakeholder effort to raise the standard of Singapore football throughout our entire football ecosystem. One of UTR!’s objectives is to strengthen our youth development ecosystem.  This would include promoting broader participation in the sport among young Singaporeans. 

    a. This is where the School Football Academies (SFAs) play a key role. These academies will provide a nurturing environment for talented youngsters to hone their skills in a structured, high-quality, good coaching system that enables them to maximise their potential. 

    b. We launched a number of these academies for boys earlier this year and are planning similar academies for the girls. When established, the academies will provide girls with even more opportunities to play, experience and enjoy football, to be competing and learning from the best, in a way that would foster an interest in them to continue pursuing the sport even as they mature into young women.

     c. We are committed to this effort, making it work, and want to make sure that these academies are designed as conducive, safe and effective environment – one that enable our young girls to train and maximise their potential.

    Safe Sport Programme

  12. On this note, let me say a little bit about what Eric and I have been talking in Parliament on the Safe Sport Programme – I think some of you may have heard about the programmes that they have launched already. It was designed to enable all those who participate in sport, including our female footballers, to be able to do so in a safe environment, free from harassment and abuse, just so that they are able to focus and concentrate on the sport.

  13. These concerns naturally apply to athletes of both genders, but certain forms of misconduct such as sexual harassment and inappropriate physical contact are particularly pertinent to female athletes.

  14. A key element of the Safe Sport Programme is the Unified Code that we launched in November last year. The Code sets out a common understanding and a set of guidelines and standards across the sporting community as to what constitutes such forms of misconduct. I think we all have to be clear. We do not tolerate misconduct, and we do not tolerate physical abuse of any sort. And this code sets very clear guidelines to make sure what are the lines people can’t cross. And we have to do this because more and more young athletes, both boys and girls, are coming into the system and it is upon us to make sure that they come in and are able to train, play and develop in a strong, safe environment.

    a. The Code is based on principles set out by the International Olympic Committee and contextualised to Singapore’s culture, norms, laws and society. 

    b. The Code was finalised through a multi-phased consultation process which involved many community stakeholders and experts, including prominent female athletes and sports administrators, and also representatives from the women’s groups.

    c. I am very pleased to share that the Code has been formally adopted by the Singapore National Olympic Council and the Paralympic Council. And in time, we expect the National Sports Associations, clubs, academies and other sports groups to similarly adopt and abide by the Code.

    d. We are also in the process of forming a panel to review allegations of misconduct and abuse so that those who are accused of these allegations, if it is rightly accused, we will take action, but if it is wrongly accused, we can ensure that no one’s career is adversely affected so that it helps both parties.

  15. Taken in totality, the Safe Sport Programme will help to better protect all who participate in sporting activities, including young girls and women.

    Singapore Women's Development

  16. Finally, let me say a little about Singapore’s women development. In many ways, the growth in women’s football here as we have been talking about in this room and as we continue to speak about it later today, and our efforts to develop the women’s game, is in line with our national agenda on Singapore Women’s Development.

  17. Last year, we held a year-long nation-wide Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development.

    a. Feedback and recommendations are being incorporated into a White Paper that will be tabled in Parliament later this year, not just the details but action plans in areas such as Equality at the Workplace, Equality at Home and Society, and Protection of Women Against Violence and Harm.

    b. It is clear to me from the extensive conversations that we have had from a whole-of-society effort across Government, civil society, private organisations, and citizens is that we have to do this collectively. This will be a collective effort and we have to do this first by changing the mindset – just as we do for women’s football, we have to first change the mindset. It is not just the attitudes of women that matter, but the attitudes of men matter equally as well. It is a whole-of-society effort that we need to change, the whole ethos and philosophy behind it, levelling up and making sure that women’s football and correspondingly women’s role in all of society can be equal to that of men.

    Closing

  18. In closing, let me reiterate that the Government is committed to supporting the ambitions of our aspiring female footballers and athletes. We look forward to working with FAS, local clubs and academies, schools, every player and their families to enable them to receive the best coaching and development potential. And if you can soar, you can roar, you can go further, and we will support you in that journey.

  19. And in the spirit of this year’s conference, let us do what it takes to Rise to the Roar!

  20. Thank you.
Last updated on 08 March 2022