Olympic council asks Singapore Table Tennis Association to explain paddler's selection

The Singapore Table Tennis Association's choice of paddlers for this year's Asian Youth Games (AYG) has met with doubt from the national body in charge of selecting athletes for multi-sport events.

The Sunday Times understands that the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) has sent an official query to the STTA, asking the association to clarify its nomination process for the Aug 16-24 Nanjing event.

In the query, it was noted that while the STTA had put 16-year-olds Edric Lim and Yee Herng Hwee up for the Games, there were other age-eligible local paddlers ranked higher on the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF)'s Under-18 rankings.

Edric is ranked 332nd and Herng Hwee is the world No.154.

Both are paddlers under the Singapore Sports School's School Within A School (SWS) programme, which allows student-athletes to train in the morning and afternoon while taking academic lessons in the evening.

The national youth team's Yin Jing Yuan, 15, is ranked No. 169 while another SWS student Maxxe Tay, 15, is No.313.

For the girls, national youth team player Ang Wan Qi, 15, is ranked No.137.

"Rather than scurrying for answers that nobody has on selection day, we are identifying areas that need looking into now, while there's still time for national sports associations to get it right," said SNOC secretary-general Chris Chan.

He has urged the association to conduct a selection trial for the AYG instead, which would make matters open and transparent.

"The AYG is straightforward, and not like the Youth Olympics, where you have to go through qualifying tournaments to compete," he said.

"Simply call a trial, let everybody play each other, and the winner represents Singapore."

The STTA is standing by its nominations.

Said its chief executive officer Wong Hui Leng: "According to the STTA's selection policy, we will nominate players from the YOG training team based on the results in overseas competitions over the past 12 months, using the ITTF points table as a reference for ITTF junior tournaments.

"According to that, Edric and Herng Hwee have the most points. This is in line with the SNOC's selection criteria, where they will only consider results over the past 12 months."

Edric, Herng Hwee and Maxxe are all in the YOG training squad, while Jing Yuan was invited to be part of the team but has yet to take up the offer.

This issue comes hot on the heels of unhappiness earlier this year over the STTA's selection criteria for the team that will train for next year's Youth Olympics.

Parents of paddlers on the national youth team felt their children were not given a fair shot at earning a place in the squad and claimed the process favoured SWS players.

That selection criteria was criticised by the SNOC when the STTA submitted it.

Said Chan yesterday: "It goes against the Olympic Charter - that every individual must be given a chance to practise sport without being discriminated against in any form."

The STTA has had prior disagreements with the SNOC regarding selection policy.

Both sides clashed in 2011, when the STTA excluded top women paddlers Feng Tianwei, Wang Yuegu and Li Jiawei from its initial nomination for the SEA Games that year.

Its selection process then was deemed "less than desirable" by the nine-man selection committee, which was chaired by SNOC president and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

The association got the go-ahead only after revising its line-up to include Feng.

But Chan gave the assurance that questioning the STTA's nomination for the AYG now is not a witch hunt, explaining that it is "quite routine" for the SNOC to scrutinise the selection process and look into athletes nominated to represent the country at major events.

The selection committee is likely to meet in May to decide on the make-up of the Singapore contingent.

In 2009, Singapore's 90-member contingent won 30 medals in the inaugural AYG on home soil.

maychen@sph.com.sg

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