Coronavirus: Sports associations in Singapore stretched but strive to keep staff, salaries intact

SINGAPORE – It has been almost eight weeks since all sporting events in Singapore were halted by the Government as the Republic battled to stem the spread of the coronavirus, and some sports bodies are feeling the pinch.

While government funding is still intact, the various National Sports Association (NSA) also rely on other sources of revenue from organising competitions and events and sponsorship. Both streams have been affected by the pandemic while corporate partners are looking to cut costs amidst the economic uncertainty.

But the majority of the 15 NSA leaders The Straits Times reached out to said they remain committed to retaining their full-time staff, and pledged not to introduce salary reductions even as they look to cost-cutting measures in other areas.

In response to queries, Sport Singapore (SportSG) said it continues to provide support to NSAs – as it did before Covid-19 – via its grants.

While noting the situation is “unprecedented… for all”, Singapore Sport Institute chief Toh Boon Yi said: “We are cognisant of the challenges during this period and strongly urge all NSAs to refrain from cutting or reducing jobs and wages.

“While we understand that each respective NSA has been impacted differently and that they have to make their respective business decisions, we hope to see them reboot in strength when the situation turns for the better.”

The Football Association of Singapore (FAS), the biggest NSA here with almost 60 full-time staff, recently moved to assure its staff that their jobs and salaries were safe.

General secretary Yazeen Buhari told ST: “While the pandemic has inevitably affected revenue for the organisation, the FAS considers the well-being of every staff member to be of the utmost importance to the organisation.

“Hence every effort was made to ensure that no full-time staff member’s employment status would be affected as a result of the pandemic. This was made possible with our internal resource re-allocation to ensure we remain sustainable during this period.”

The FAS runs the country’s only professional sports league, the 25-year-old Singapore Premier League (SPL). It disburse a supplementary subsidy of over $600,000 last month to seven local clubs so that players would continue to be paid their full wages.

The average monthly player wage bill for each SPL club ranges between $75,000 and $100,000. Some had considered wage reductions for players after jackpot operations – a key revenue stream – were halted as part of the Government’s plan to tackle the Covid-19 problem.

Other leading sports bodies also indicated that job or salary cuts were not on the horizon for their staff. In order to achieve this, the Singapore Badminton Association said it would be “prudent” with its finances while Singapore Athletics noted that “alternative cost-saving strategies” would be sought “where possible”.

Only one NSA has a registered business unit – the Singapore Bowling Federation (SBF), which set up SingaporeBowling Pte Ltd in 2015 to manage a $3.5 million, 38-lane centre, which opened the same year at Temasek Club.

It was set up to help the association gain financial independence from the Government in the long run.

The SBF has seen one of its revenue streams affected because of the temporary closure of its bowling centre. Its executive director Melvyn Fones said the organisation was “focused on keeping our team and staff engaged and preparing programmes” once the circuit breaker measures are fully lifted.

Singapore will begin opening up in phases from June 2 but it is unclear when sport will be able to resume.

The Singapore Rugby Union (SRU) had set up a commercial arm, Rugby Singapore, to manage the World Rugby’s HSBC Sevens Series Singapore, a tournament which the Republic won hosting rights in 2016.

However, Rugby Singapore chalked up debts of $1.7 million, which led to its eventual liquidation, and national agency SportSG and the Singapore Sports Hub have since taken over the running of the tournament, which drew almost 200,000 fans over four editions.

When contacted, SRU president Terence Khoo declined to elaborate on how the coronavirus situation had affected SRU’s revenue or its operations.

Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) president Ellen Lee said the pandemic has caused “much uncertainty” for the organisation, which had to cancel all its training programmes since April.

“However, instead of focusing on retrenchments and pay cuts, we have put our employees to training and upgrading during this difficult period of time,” said Lee, who added the government’s Jobs Support Scheme, introduced in this year’s Budget to provide wage support to employers for locals, has provided relief to the STTA.

“In these uncertain times, we want to take care of our employees as (they) also have their families to take care of. We believe this goodwill will be remembered by our employees for years to come.”

The FAS and Fencing Singapore are among several NSAs that have also taken to upgrading their staff’s skills by conducting home-based courses and webinars.

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