FAS ● Jul 08, 2021
For The Love of The Game
The ‘Florence Nightingale’ of local football, Nurhafizah Abu Sujad broadens the reach of her quest to keep footballers in top condition, joining the Lion City Sailors while retaining her role as National Teams Head Physiotherapist
Nurhafizah Sujad sings the national anthem before Singapore play Timor-Leste, 21 November 2018
SINGAPORE, 8 JULY 2021 – When an injured player comes to her, Nurhafizah Abu Sujad does not just treat the ailment.
She makes it a point to know and understand every individual, which she believes will help to facilitate their recuperation and eventual return to action.
It is no wonder then that Fizah, as she is more commonly known as, has become the go-to physiotherapist for almost every local footballer since assuming the role of Head Physiotherapist, National Teams at the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) in early 2012. This July, she joins the Lion City Sailors as the Singapore Premier League (SPL) club’s Head Physiotherapist while continuing to serve the national setup during FIFA International windows.
During her tenure at the FAS, Fizah has forged deep bonds with members of the Men’s National Team, as well as other players from both the men’s and women’s age-group teams, thanks to her personal approach and tireless dedication to the craft.
“I always feel that it is my responsibility to help them because they have all contributed to Singapore football,” she told FAS.org.sg recently. “There is a lot of information in my brain (about every player’s condition) but I also have proper documentation on my laptop, so that helps. But also, it is just ‘in me’; once you understand the player (on a personal level), it is easier to treat them.”
Jovial and easy-going, Fizah aspired to become a nurse but made physiotherapy her choice of career after being inspired by a physiotherapist who treated her when she was injured during her time in the national youth netball team.
After graduating from her studies, Fizah served her bond at Changi General Hospital, where she was exposed to different branches of physiotherapy and spent most of her time in the neurology and Intensive Care Unit departments. A brief stint followed at the Ministry of Defence, where she worked with the Commandos and pilots before the Singapore Sports Council (now Sport Singapore) came calling in 2010.
Fizah treating Safuwan Baharudin, 17 July 2014
There, Fizah worked with athletes who were competing at international level and at events like the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, Asian Games and the Olympics. She had attachments to the netball, rugby and hockey national teams, and also travelled as part of the Team Singapore contingent for the SEA Games and Asian Games. It was also where the doors to a career in football opened when her forerunner Yeo Hwee Koon, who was preparing the Lions for the World Cup qualifiers, requested for Fizah’s assistance with the Under-23s in 2011.
“I liked it,” she recalled of the period that saw her attached with the team through the Newspaper Cup in Vietnam, centralised training and then the 2011 SEA Games in Jakarta. “It was tiring but fun; maybe it was a bit different because it was (solely) football and my brother (Hafiz) was also there! I thought it was a good experience for me.”
As Fizah put it, the football environment was one she was familiar with. Her father was a former Lion, elder brother Nadzi turned out for Balestier Khalsa, while younger brother Hafiz is a Singapore international and local legend Fandi Ahmad is their cousin. Hence, when she knew that FAS were looking for a full-time hire, Fizah took the plunge to “challenge” herself.
Her main concern was whether the players would be able to accept a new face, but Fizah soon won them over with her abilities and fuss-free demeanour.
Current Lions captain Hariss Harun said: “It is not easy for a female physiotherapist to work in a male-oriented environment, but she is strong-willed, passionate, straightforward and she genuinely feels for the team and for the boys; it is like she is playing the game with us! She is always there for us and never fails to make the process as smooth as possible whenever we have to see her.”
Fizah before a friendly between Singapore and Fiji, 11 September 2018
The steadfast support from her husband and three children and her wider family, as well as the rewards that she derives from the job, are what have kept Fizah going.
“Sometimes in the middle of the night when players get injured, they understand when I have to go to hospital to help, or when I have to help players after games end,” she said. “At the end of the day, as long as I know my role and my husband and my kids respect what I do and trust me, it is okay. People know who I am and what I do; I am there to work and give my very best.
“To see the players being able to return to play at their previous level, that is one of the most rewarding experiences. And of course, when they are appreciative with the little thank-yous and smiles, these are the little things that keep me going. Basically, they are like my brothers!”
Hariss concurred: “She is a big sister, and we respect her tremendously; everyone only has good things to say about her, which speaks volumes. Even those who are based overseas, when they need something, she will be the first person they call. She has never said no and always tries to accommodate us the best she can.”
Fizah observes the Lions’ warmup ahead of their match against Uzbekistan, 7 June 2021
Rising to the challenge of added responsibility
Fizah is looking forward to taking on the added responsibility of serving both club and country as she feels she has more to offer in the field of sports recovery.
“I think this move comes at the right time in my career as a physiotherapist,” she said. “I am looking forward to help the Sailors develop sports medicine expertise and am delighted that I will be able to continue to serve my country and further lend my expertise to mentor other physiotherapists coming into the Game at the FAS.
“What really excites me is to be able to lead in the development of sports medicine at LCS, and to put in place a system to raise, mould and sustain this capability at the academy and the club.”
While she will be part of the Sailors’ crew during the regular season, Fizah will continue to be a key part of the National Team’s backroom staff during FIFA international windows and will also mentor interns who are entering the football sports medicine system.
Acknowledging the constant support from her family and FAS, Fizah’s confidence in balancing the responsibilities stems from the experiences she has acquired over the years and she is looking forward to the challenge.
“It will be a delicate balancing act at the start for sure, but I believe that during the FIFA periods, I will be able to still commit my time and attention to helping the National Team,” she said. “At the end of the day, having worked in Singapore football for so long, the emotional attachment is definitely strong, which is why I still want to contribute my services to the country as much as possible and help the players as best as I can.”
Fizah also noted that the sports medicine and science scene in Singapore has made strides since her early days. The Football Science and Medicine department at FAS has expanded in size and scope since 2018, while players are also increasingly knowledgeable about and taking more responsibility for their own nutrition, recovery and other related aspects.
She makes it a point to stay up to date with the latest in sports science and physiotherapy and is grateful to FAS’ continuous support over the years for sending her to various overseas conferences and workshops, two to three times annually. Even amid the current COVID-19 pandemic, Fizah’s quest to learn has not stopped as she has attended several online seminars during this period.
“There is now more exposure to sports medicine and sports science as compared to ten years ago,” she added. “I am grateful for the various opportunities that I was given over these past years, and it is great to see that we (FAS) take in students on attachments to give them much needed exposure to the industry. Some of them have gone on to work with local clubs when they graduated, which is crucial to building up the scene.
“I would also love to be a good role model to anyone who wants to work in football and if anyone needs help, I am more than happy to help!”
FAS General Secretary Yazeen Buhari acknowledged that Fizah is someone that the FAS sees as a vital cog in the National Team backroom setup: “Since Fizah joined us, she has been vital in leading the expansion and strategic investment of the FAS football medicine department over the years and will continue to be one of the key pillars of our National Teams, in particular the Lions, with her incredible work ethic and expertise. It is testament to her ability and character that she is so highly regarded by everyone that has worked with her, and we are glad she will now lend her expertise to the Sailors’ set-up. Her strong desire to serve Singapore football is unmatched and we are happy to support her decision to take on this unique next chapter of her career while continuing to serve the national purpose.”