Athletics: Rio wildcard entries redefined

Shanti Pereira basking in the moment after she bagged the SEA Games women’s 200m gold.
Shanti Pereira basking in the moment after she bagged the SEA Games women’s 200m gold. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Former recipients not considered, new ruling by Singapore Athletics on Olympic selection

Track and field athletes who have previously represented Singapore at the Olympics as wildcard entries will not be considered under the same scheme for next year's Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The Straits Times understands this criterion was agreed upon by the Singapore Athletics (SA) management committee at a meeting last week.

Two wildcards - one each for a male and female athlete - are given to countries who have no athletes that qualify on merit for the Games.

SA president Tang Weng Fei said yesterday that the selection criteria are still being finalised, but added: "The wildcard system is in place to ensure each country can be represented at the Olympics. So it is a privilege, not an entitlement. The management committee endorses this view.

"The few who have been there should look at it objectively and give others a chance to be Olympians."

However, a local athletics observer, who declined to be named, said: "On sport's biggest stage you want your best athletes to represent the country. (Mere) participation should not be a priority."

In 2008, sprinter Calvin Kang was given the wildcard and competed in the 100m. He went to Beijing with thrower Zhang Guirong, who had qualified for the shot put.

In 2012, the wildcards were given to runners Gary Yeo (now retired) and Dipna Lim-Prasad.

Athletes who have won medals at regional meets, including June's SEA Games, or those who have broken national records recently are believed to be those who will be considered for wildcard entries.

Some candidates include SEA Games champions Shanti Pereira (200m) and Soh Rui Yong (marathon), as well as Zubin Percy Muncherji, who last June broke Godfrey Jalleh's national 400m mark, set in 1974.

There have been previous disputes over the allocation of wildcards. In 2000, trap shooter Lee Wung Yew wrote to the Singapore National Olympic Council and the Ministry of Community Development and Sports to question his association's selection process.

The two-time Sportsman of the Year felt the Singapore Shooting Association's selection criteria were "ad hoc", and asked for "a more transparent system of selection".

Asked if it was easier to adhere to an existing system such as the International Association of Athletics Federations' scoring table, which awards points based on an athlete's performance in each event, to avoid any backlash, Tang said: "That's why we will be very careful and come up with very clear and athlete-centric criteria, at the same time taking into account the Olympic spirit.

"We have nothing against individual athletes. In fact, it is also a challenge for those who have gone for the Olympics to forget about the wildcard, raise their bar, and meet the qualifying mark."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2015, with the headline 'RIO WILDCARD ENTRIES REDEFINED'. Print Edition | Subscribe