Athletics: Singapore Athletics and coach Oh compromise over Pereira and camp

After Singapore Athletics and her coach Margaret Oh finally came to an understanding yesterday, Shanti Pereira said: "At the end of the day, we must all be united for that one goal, which is to win and do Singapore proud."
After Singapore Athletics and her coach Margaret Oh finally came to an understanding yesterday, Shanti Pereira said: "At the end of the day, we must all be united for that one goal, which is to win and do Singapore proud." ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Both parties work through their differences, agree that sprinter will take part in Games build-up

The parties warring within Singapore Athletics (SA) over Shanti Pereira have finally found common ground.

The star sprinter's coach Margaret Oh and SA's high performance team have agreed to look past the friction and work together, with the 20-year-old set to attend a pre-SEA Games centralised training camp next month, despite being in doubt initially.

However, another curveball came yesterday after the SA management committee voted against Taiwan as the location for the camp - which was Oh's original beef.

Following meetings held yesterday at the Singapore Sports Hub that involved Clarence Pereira, the sprinter's father, SA technical director Volker Herrmann, SA general manager Jaime Cheong and Oh, it was agreed that athlete and coach would join the camp - even if it were to take place in Taiwan.

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The location of the two-week camp had been a bone of contention between Herrmann and Oh, who felt it was not suitable, owing to its climatic differences with Kuala Lumpur, site of the Games.

She had also cited concern that Pereira, who is slated to compete at the Asian Athletics Championships in India early next month, would be left fatigued by all that travelling.

Despite Oh's concerns, Pereira was told that she would be dropped from the SEA Games 4x100m team should she skip the camp.

But yesterday, the 2015 SEA Games 200m champion told The Straits Times: "They had a good, positive discussion.

"Running in the relay is as important to me as the individual events and what I need is 100 per cent support from all parties. At the end of the day, we must all be united for that one goal, which is to win and do Singapore proud."

Her father, who noted that it was natural for different parties to disagree, was equally optimistic.

He said: "There's always a solution. In the end if you combine the differences, it may actually be very advantageous for a team.

"I just hope there's no alien intervention and that everyone (will) be allowed to do their work. I'm confident that everyone will look ahead and move on."

The clash between Herrmann and Oh is understood to have contributed to the rancour within the association.

The depth of the animosity was highlighted in leaked WhatsApp conversations that showed SA vice-president (training and selection) Govindasamy Balasekaran instructing SA staff to "get evidence" against Oh, and that "Margaret needs to get into trouble so we can take action on her".

Oh said she was never against the idea of a centralised training camp - merely where it was held. But she is willing to compromise on this stand in exchange for peace of mind for her protege ahead of the Aug 19-30 Games.

She said: "When you're going into an away Games to defend a title, the mentality is very different. It's my wish that she wins again and I don't want to stress Shanti further."

But the location of the training camp itself is now in limbo, after SA president Ho Mun Cheong revealed that the association's 26-strong management committee had voted against having it in Taiwan early yesterday.

Ho declined to elaborate on the reasons for the decision or where it could now be held, and would only say that there would never be complete agreement from everyone, no matter where the camp is eventually held.

He said: "(Taiwan) has not been approved. There will still be a camp, it's now up to the technical director to find an alternative place.

"It can be held nearer. Malaysia is so big - it can be in parts of Malaysia. Three to four weeks is not too tight (a time frame) - it can still be arranged."

The track and field team had originally been slated to train in Taiwan from July 13-27, giving the athletes time to make their final preparations for the SEA Games.

Arrangements made with the National Taiwan Sport University will now have to be shelved, with SA staff on the lookout to secure an alternative venue quickly.

It is understood that Hong Kong had been the first choice, with Taiwan as a back-up option. Both locations had been favoured for their facilities, safety and inexpensive accommodation options. The Chinese Taipei national team and possibly other federations were also slated to train alongside the Singaporeans.

Said SA general manager Jaime Cheong: "It's going to be a slim chance but we will have to try to find an alternative if the management committee has decided."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2017, with the headline 'SA, Oh compromise over Pereira, camp'. Print Edition | Subscribe