Athletics: Board of inquiry concludes that association should call for independent probe into WhatsApp saga

SA vice-president Govindasamy Balasekaran is at the centre of a probe following the leaking of a WhatsApp conversation in June.
SA vice-president Govindasamy Balasekaran is at the centre of a probe following the leaking of a WhatsApp conversation in June. ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

The Singapore Athletics (SA) board of inquiry convened to investigate a controversial WhatsApp conversation involving officials has recommended that the association refer the matter to an independent disciplinary committee (DC).

The board, comprising SA's chairman of race walking Leong Lee San, SA's chairman of officials Joe Yap and Wings Athletic Club president Jezreel Mok, yesterday released its findings to the governing body's management committee (MC).

The MC comprises 14 elected individuals, as well as a representative from 12 SA affiliate members.

A simple majority by the MC is needed to form the independent DC, which has the power to recommend penalties in accordance with the SA's constitution.

There is no deadline set for this vote, said SA president Ho Mun Cheong, but he believes the MC will respond within the next week.

In 2006, a three-man DC (lawyers Jeffrey Beh and Mohamed Muzammil, and then Singapore Sports Council official Mahipal Singh) found national runners Kenneth Khoo and Firdaus Juhari and their coaches Melvin Tan and Pedro Acuna guilty of misbehaviour after a dispute with then national sprints coach Uli Kunst at the 2005 Singapore Open.

The then Singapore Athletic Association's MC issued bans ranging from 41/2 to nine months.

In June, photos of a WhatsApp conversation were leaked. They appeared to show SA vice-president (training and selection) Govindasamy Balasekaran instructing SA staff to collect evidence so that disciplinary action would have to be taken against local coaches Margaret Oh (sprint) and David Yeo (pole vault).

SA general manager Jaime Cheong, technical director Volker Herrmann, sports development and performance manager Ong Wan Xin and senior executive Shalindran Sathiyanesan were part of the conversation.

In July, Ho announced the formation of a board to investigate the matter. It had originally consisted of Leong, Yap and SA's chairman of tug of war Terry Tan, but the latter then withdrew as a result of work commitments.

The board report, as seen by ST, concluded that the exposing of the "plot to cause mischief and trouble among coaches ... has done damage to the reputation of the association and demoralised the whole (athletics) fraternity".

Inside the nine-page report, it noted that Herrmann, Cheong, Ong and Sathiyanesan met the board on July 24 but all four declined to answer any questions.

Herrmann later submitted a written statement to the board in August and said the leaked WhatsApp messages was a personal exchange between the team and a "serious violation of personal privacy".

It is understood that Balasekaran declined to be interviewed by the board and questioned its validity and claimed that the board was unconstitutional.

He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Ho said: "This affects the athletes and the coaches so as president I have to do what is right for the association, and what is right is to make sure this doesn't happen again."