Athletics: Fire still in Tang despite hot disputes

Outgoing Singapore Athletics president Tang Weng Fei cites his sport's nine-medal harvest in last year's SEA Games at home as one of the highlights of his second tenure at the association.
Outgoing Singapore Athletics president Tang Weng Fei cites his sport's nine-medal harvest in last year's SEA Games at home as one of the highlights of his second tenure at the association.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Internal rows have not discouraged exiting SA president, who still wants to contribute

Even after six bruising years at the helm of Singapore Athletics (SA), outgoing president Tang Weng Fei has no regrets he returned to lead the sport for a second time.

Two days before stepping down at the end of a tenure marred by several public spats between officials, he wonders only if SA could have had more progress had he taken a different leadership style.

"I'm not a confrontational leader. I believe in listening to everyone," the 62-year-old told The Sunday Times yesterday.

Over a breakfast of roti prata and between sips of tea in his Bukit Timah home, Tang looked back on his tenure at the same dining table where he was convinced by members of the athletics fraternity in 2010 to steer the sport out of the doldrums together as a team.

That team have since been split through spiteful disagreements, with different members now on opposing camps seeking election at SA's annual general meeting tomorrow evening.

NEED FOR STEEL

If you don't have a strong sports administrator running the office, it's quite tough. I guess I could've been stronger.

TANG WENG FEI, outgoing SA president, on dealing with strong-willed characters in the management team.

Current assistant honorary secretary Ho Mun Cheong is leading a team that includes veteran coach and vice-president (competitions organising) Loh Chan Pew against a slate headed by lawyer Edmond Pereira, who has both the backing of Tang and former athletics chief Loh Lin Kok.

Said Tang, an oil trader: "Some of the people in the management are strong characters. If you don't have a strong sports administrator running the office, it's quite tough. I guess I could've been stronger."

Had it not been for the internal strife, Tang - his first term as president was from 2004 to 2006 - said he would have had no qualms taking on a fourth straight term.

After all, the former national hurdler remains passionate about giving back to a sport he credits for putting him on the road to a successful career. The grandfather of two even laced up last month to compete in the Asian Masters which Singapore hosted.

"We worked well for the first four years, but in the last term, it just got really tiring," said Tang. Still, he lauded vice-president (training and selection) C. Kunalan, Loh and honorary treasurer Cheng Heng Tan for their outstanding contribution.

Among the allegations Tang feels has been unfairly thrown at him in a war of words in recent weeks - charges that he is not running again due to guilt from "persistent unilateral actions", as described in a letter sent to leaders of the Singapore National Olympic Council and national sports agency Sport Singapore (SportSG).

Another was that he had acted irresponsibly in handling the late payment of sanctioning fees due to SA by Spectrum Worldwide, former organiser of the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore. The fees have since been paid.

Describing the public splits within SA as "unfortunate" and "disturbing", SportSG chief executive Lim Teck Yin said: "Disagreements are to be expected but there is a need for these to be ironed out within a climate of mutual respect and professional decorum."

He also noted that Tang had informed of his intention to step down months ago.

The tenure was not without rewards, however, given the strides made in high performance in recent years. The nine medals won at last year's SEA Games (three of each colour) were Singapore's best showing at the biennial event in more than a decade.

Interestingly, Tang's highlights are from his most trying period in office. He named the SEA Games golds won by sprinter Shanti Pereira and marathoner Soh Rui Yong, and the spectators who turned up at the National Stadium in droves last year as his fondest memories.

Having taken leadership during some of SA's stormiest times - government funding was frozen for more than a year in 2010 after missing deadlines to submit training and development plans - Tang leaves SA with healthy reserves in excess of $1 million (as of March).

He said: "There's been improvement not just in performance, but also in the athletes' attitude. But there's still a lot more scope for improvement."

He has big hopes for Singapore's future elite athletes, naming middle distance runner Lui Yuan Chow, 17, and long jumper Tia Louise Rozario, 16, as some of those with great potential.

Tang said he bows out committed to a smooth transition, but it will not be the last the sport sees of him. He remains on the Asian Athletics Association's finance and marketing commission and could also make another bid to be on the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) council.

Said Tang, who lost to Spain's Jose Maria Odriozola in a run for IAAF treasurer last year: "I'm still interested. I can bring to the sport the international contacts that I have. The next elections aren't until 2019, so there's still a few years of networking internationally."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 26, 2016, with the headline 'Fire still in Tang despite hot disputes'. Print Edition | Subscribe