Athletics: SA chief Tang Weng Fei bows out amid infighting

Tang Weng Fei has urged whoever takes over to raise the standard of track and field here, so Singapore can match its regional rivals.
Tang Weng Fei has urged whoever takes over to raise the standard of track and field here, so Singapore can match its regional rivals.ST PHOTO: YOGARAJ PANDITURAI

Disagreements within exco, which have hindered progress, main reason for his exit

It was a six-year reign that saw the highs of winning three SEA Games gold medals on home soil, the securing of a permanent home at Kallang and the staging of the Asian Masters Athletic Championships.

But Tang Weng Fei's six-year reign as Singapore Athletics (SA) president was not without its lows - and ultimately it was the infighting within the fraternity that saw the ex-national hurdler call it quits yesterday.

Speaking at a press conference at Seven Seas Oil Trading, an oil company he owns at The Arcade at Collyer Quay, the 62-year-old announced that he would not seek re-election at the SA's coming annual general meeting on June 27. He cited an executive committee torn apart by disagreements as the main reason for his exit.

 

Tang had previously served SA as its vice-president (training and selection) in 2002 before becomingpresident in 2004. He stepped down for the first time in 2006.

Of his decision to quit, Tang, who returned for a second stint as athletics chief in 2010, said: "There are a lot of disagreements within the executive committee. That's my only regret (in his six years in charge).

"I accept that you can agree to disagree, but if disagreement leads to disruption and good plans cannot move forward, then I think the best thing for me is to step down and let a cohesive team take over."

CALL FOR UNITY

We've the best infrastructure, best track, we've a Home of Athletics and funding. It's left to the athletes and coaches to work together.

TANG WENG FEI, outgoing SA president.

He added: "As a businessman, I look at running SA as no different from (a business). I've succeeded in many businesses and have also failed in some businesses.

"Most of those businesses that I've failed in are (those where) I've had problems with my partners - your partners are the most important aspect. Similarly (in SA), there are a lot of passionate people there but it's always personal issues that are brought into the final equation, which causes a lot of disruption."

Disputes within the SA have been well documented. In 2014, general manager and ex-national thrower James Wong was accused by vice-president (organising and competition) Loh Chan Pew of submitting excessive mileage claims. Wong was later cleared of any wrongdoing after an inquiry.

Tang then saw his friendship with Loh turn sour when he suspended the latter and vice-president (training and selection) Steven Lee for two months in that same year for acts that were deemed to undermine the exco. Loh was also accused of behaving aggressively during an exco meeting.

"I still remember in 2009 when they all came to my house, asking me to come forward and help out," recalled Tang. "We were good friends then. I am not sure how it ended up like this - how James and Chan Pew ended up being arch-enemies after being the best of friends."

Loh declined comment. He is, however, expected to contest the upcoming elections as part of Ho Mun Cheong's team. The current honorary secretary is expected to contest the presidency.

Despite the lows, Tang's reign was not without bright moments. He praised Shanti Pereira, who last year became the first Singapore woman sprinter to win a gold medal at the SEA Games since 1973.

Tang also talked about about marathoner Soh Rui Yong, saying, "he's one to watch out for and someone with potential".

To those taking over, he said: "My parting words to whoever wins the election is that (you should) never forget what we're here for. Don't take issues personally. You should work together as a cohesive team.

"The only way to improve the sport is through cohesiveness. At the end of the day, everyone is trying to do something they're passionate about. To be passionate is to not take issues personally."

Nominations for the elections close on June 20. Tang also called on the new line-up to raise the standard of local track and field and be on par with the region.

"Our kids are not as hungry as the Vietnamese or even Malaysia," he lamented. "Our system will always be a disadvantage against the likes of Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. They're full-time athletes and are quite hungry to use this opportunity to get out of their poor background.

"At the Singapore Open, we didn't have a male 100m finalist - that needs to change. We've the best infrastructure, best track, we've a Home of Athletics and funding. It's left to the athletes and coaches to work together.

"What's important first is that the association must stay strong as a unit and stand by its decisions to let athletes know they will be given full support."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2016, with the headline 'Tang bows out amid infighting'. Print Edition | Subscribe