Athletics: SA boss in e-mail backdown

Ho Mun Cheong, president of Singapore Athletics (SA) speaks during a press conference.
Ho Mun Cheong, president of Singapore Athletics (SA) speaks during a press conference. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Ho concedes pro-tem body has say over SEA Games prep after giving orders to exclude staff

Merely a day after authorities formed a major Games preparation committee, to give track and field athletes a smooth runway to the upcoming SEA Games, a directive from Singapore Athletics (SA) chief Ho Mun Cheong to bar his high-performance staff from preparation plans threatened to throw a spanner in the works again.

The Sunday Times understands that, in an e-mail sent on Friday evening, Ho ordered that the association's Sports Development and Performance (SDP) team be excluded from any arrangements pertaining to groundwork for the Aug 19-30 Games in Kuala Lumpur.

The instruction was given after an announcement the same day that a pro-tem body jointly set up by the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) and Sport Singapore (SportSG) would take charge of the sport's SEA Games plans.

It is understood that Ho had also called for technical director Volker Herrmann to be removed from the team heading to India early next month for the Asian Athletics Championships.

The German also coaches the national relay teams and had been scheduled to lead the squad to Bhubaneswar on July 4.

Ho's directive came at an inopportune time, given that the major Games preparation committee had just assumed responsibility of track and field's SEA Games preparations.

Co-chaired by SNOC secretary-general Chris Chan and Singapore Sports Institute chief Toh Boon Yi, the committee took over the reins from SA after internal strife among the association's top brass in recent months threatened to disrupt athletes' training.

FINDING COMMON GROUND

We've made it clear that the SDP team will report to (the major Games preparation committee). They are part of the team that prepares athletes and officials for the SEA Games.

CHRIS CHAN, SNOC secretary-general.

When contacted yesterday, Chan reiterated that SA's high-performance staff will continue to be involved in athletes' preparation.

He said: "We've made it clear that the SDP team will report to (the major Games preparation committee). They are part of the team that prepares athletes and officials for the SEA Games.

"The committee is here to work with whatever plans they have, and hopefully we can reinforce it and come up with something stronger.

"We don't want disruption nor fractured teams. We want to add value and we'll listen to both sides to see what the best way is forward."

Ho conceded his position yesterday, following what is understood to be further communication between him and the committee.

He said: "Now that there is this major Games preparation committee, everything is handled by them, even deciding who will be sent overseas."

Still, he hinted that he plans to convene a board of inquiry after SA's annual general meeting on Tuesday to investigate SDP staff who were involved in the leaked WhatsApp conversation last week.

In it, SA vice-president (training and selection) Govindasamy Balasekaran was seen to instruct staff to "get evidence" to land local coaches Margaret Oh (sprint) and David Yeo (pole vault) in disciplinary trouble.

Said Ho: "The investigation is separate from sending them to overseas (for training or competition).

"The board will have to be independent. Whoever is appointed (to it), we must make sure the management committee agree."

While it appears that the trip to compete at the Asian Athletics Championships will go ahead as planned for now, there are athletes who still feel stability is lacking, as a dark cloud continues to hang over them.

Said sprinter and Rio Olympian Timothee Yap, who made reference to the men's 4x100m team he is a part of: "We are leaving soon for a high-level competition, yet can't feel sure that our coach will be able to be there for us. That's very damaging to our preparations.

"We are trying to move on and focus on training but things continue to seem disruptive and distracting."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 25, 2017, with the headline 'Athletics boss backs down'. Print Edition | Subscribe