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The Beautiful Game: How I started the LKY School Student-Staff Football Match

13 Mar 2019

There are few special moments that make our journey more beautiful and more memorable. LKY School journey offers such special moments to its community in different ways. One of the most loved and sought after moment for most of us in the school is “The Staff – Student Football Match”. Let me tell you the story of how this tradition started…

When I graduated in 2013, the School was relatively young and new, with a cohort of approximately 200 students. Seven years later, as I serve as the Director of Policy Development and Partnerships at the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), a Qatar Foundation initiative, I cannot help but feel a profound sense of pride as the LKY School is consistently benchmarked and discussed as a leading academic model in various professional settings. It has established an impressive global reputation of academic prestige in just less than a decade. The lessons that I gained in the classrooms undeniably influenced who I am today; however, the memories made outside the classroom with the LKY School community are the ones that I cherish the most.

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The Staff and Students gather for a picture before the kick-off of the inaugural football match at LKY School

During my first year in Singapore, I quickly realized that academic rigor and excellence were core elements of student life. Extracurricular activities often centered on academics; students of different programmes (MPP, MPA, MPM, and PhD) were highly compartmentalized and seldom interacted. Although I had great relationships with my professors, there was a vertical nature in the student-to-professor and student-to-dean interpersonal dynamics.

As an international student, more specifically a highly-extroverted international student, I was struggling to find a sense of belonging. The solution? I decided to create a sense of community for myself and others that is detached from academics and anchored in fun. What better way to foster such spirit than through football? Through football, a universally beloved sport, I sought to break down formalities and unite students and faculty in healthy competition. Once I started taking incentive to materialize this idea into a full-fledge tournament, I knew there was one hurdle I had to overcome: financial support from the School’s management. To make this tournament truly a memorable experience for everyone involved it had to be a spectacle, which also meant it needed a budget. To my pleasant surprise, I was met with absolute enthusiasm when approaching Dr. Suzaina Kadir and Mr. Stavros Yiannouka (then Executive Vice Dean) for support. In fact, so much enthusiasm that the tournament became a sponsored event! Hence, revealing that this simple tournament was addressing a profound need for building social spirit on campus. With financial support, we could now get uniforms, invest in a trophy, and host a celebratory barbeque after the final whistle was blown.

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Founding Dean Kishore Mahbubani shaking Elyas’ hand and wishing the students before the start of the match

The reason this event was so impactful and substantive beyond a mere football match was the fact that it allowed the faculty and students to deconstruct socio-academic silos and hierarchies, while interacting in an enjoyable way. With an objective to level the playing field, the teams were mixed in gender and consisted of students from different programmes, united in rivalry against their dean and professors.

Right before kick-off I remember Founding Dean Mahbubani mumbling in my ear with the following instruction:

“I’m playing only five minutes, let me look good lah!”

In that “moment”, I knew that a legacy was born out of this event. It achieved all social objectives, while most importantly bringing everyone together—from students, to parents and faculty— in celebration and pride of being a part of of the special community of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

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The LKY School community having fun at the inaugural football match
Elyas Felfoul

Master in Public Policy (2013)