Athletics: Singapore Athletics coaching scheme comes under fire

Singapore Athletics Association head coach (sprints, relays and hurdles), Luis Cunha.
Singapore Athletics Association head coach (sprints, relays and hurdles), Luis Cunha. PHOTO: ST FILE

Local coaches concerned about amount paid to apprentices to learn from national coach

The Singapore Athletics' Apprentice Coach Programme, launched last month and funded by Sport Singapore, was aimed at raising the level of track and field coaching in Singapore.

But the scheme, whose participants come under the wing of national coach (sprints, relays and hurdles) Luis Cunha, a three-time Olympian, has attracted criticism from the local fraternity.

One area of concern is the participant's salary, believed to be around $2,500, which some local coaches say is excessive for a part-time position where learning is the priority. Apprentices have to log two to three sessions a week, but there is no "test" mechanism to assess their performance.

By comparison, a track and field coach just starting out in the school scene here earns around $1,000 a month. In 2009, national coaches were paid $500 a month to train athletes - also thrice weekly - for the year's SEA Games.

An advertisement on job portal JobsDB said SA is looking at a maximum intake of five for the programme. It said applicants will "assist the head coach to implement a sprints, relays and hurdles programme".

So far, former national sprinter Alfred Sim and Fabian Williams, a marathoner and triathlete, are on the programme.

With Cunha coaching a group of around 10 athletes, critics question the benefits for participants in working with such a small group.

Said a local coach, who declined to be named: "I find it a waste of money, as they have to be there only two to three times (a week).

"Also, is it justifiable for the head coach to have so many assistants helping him with so few athletes?"

SA said remuneration is confidential, but its general manager Damon Yong noted that the size of the national team is "immaterial". He also clarified that the apprentices are not assisting Cunha but learning from his coaching methodology.

He added: "The selection and subsequent package offered to our apprentice coaches went through an open and transparent decision-making process by the management of SA. Luis' work is not limited to actual track work as he also utilises sports science methods in executing his training plans.

"The apprentice coaches will benefit a lot from this engagement."

Former national distance runner G. Elangovan backed the scheme but wanted to ensure participants are kept on their toes. He said: "Maybe after six months, they can pick a few young athletes, apply what they have learnt and be judged on the athletes' improvement. Then if they don't meet certain benchmarks, others can take their place."

Former national relay coach Hamkah Afik suggested that SA should consider applicants from other disciplines, such as middle and long-distance running, jumps and throws, especially since these disciplines have delivered medals in recent SEA Games.

Yong said the programme will expand its scope after April when the new financial year begins. He added that measures - such as getting participants to engage the athletics community - are in place to ensure the scheme is not abused.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2016, with the headline 'ATHLETICS COACHING SCHEME UNDER FIRE'. Print Edition | Subscribe