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Olympics: Carving his own path at the helm of sport

Jerry Ling joined the World Taekwondo Federation after a backpacking trip to South Korea in 2004 and his current role involves overseeing the operations of the Pyeongchang Winter Games.
Jerry Ling joined the World Taekwondo Federation after a backpacking trip to South Korea in 2004 and his current role involves overseeing the operations of the Pyeongchang Winter Games.PHOTO COURTESY OF JERRY LING

S'porean Jerry Ling goes from an untrained outsider to a key organiser for Winter Games

By his own admission, Jerry Ling was neither trained nor prepared for the work he has done over the last 12 years.

From an international sports federation, then a world championships, to his current role as the director of sport services for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, the Singaporean has been involved in managing world sport's highest-profile events.

Yet, for someone whose only foray into sport before this was as a weekend warrior, the 40-year-old never thought he would carve a career in sport management.

A psychology degree holder, Ling stumbled into sport at the end of a month-long backpacking trip in South Korea in 2004.

MAKING HIS CONTRIBUTION COUNT

I think I've helped to show people that just because I come from a small country like Singapore, it doesn't mean I cannot handle organising (sports events).

JERRY LING, conscious of representing the Republic on the world stage.

Just a day before he was due to return home to Singapore, the young graduate was unexpectedly offered a job on the spot by the World Taekwondo Federation to help introduce changes in the organisation.

After more than four years, Ling joined the organising committee of the 2011 athletics World Championships in Daegu, South Korea as its director of international liaison.

"I took a totally different career path. I never expected (that I would) end up in sport management, but I guess things have their own way of working out," Ling told The Straits Times in a phone interview from Pyeongchang, where he is now based.

The learning curve has been steep, and not just because he had no background in sports management. He has also had to learn Korean from scratch, and the only child has also had to cope with being away from creature comforts and family.

Said Ling: "Sometimes there are very different working styles and clashes, and you have to learn to bridge the gap. It was a very good learning experience but also a great challenge. I had nothing to build on... but over time, establishing relationships helped to overcome the challenges."

FINDING A COMMON FOCUS

Sometimes there are very different working styles and clashes, and you have to learn to bridge the gap. It was a very good learning experience but also a great challenge.

JERRY LING, who had to learn Korean from scratch.

His current work with the Pyeongchang Winter Games involves overseeing anything that helps to support the smooth running of competition. This includes the complex work of developing the competition schedule, managing logistics for the hundreds of technical delegates and liaising with a range of international federations.

An accidental career in sport management has brought him unexpected satisfaction, but Ling said he has taken more joy from proving doubters wrong.

"This is something totally different, something off the beaten track," said Ling, who has a Korean wife as well as a son aged five and a daughter aged three.

"I think I've helped to show people that just because I come from a small country like Singapore, it doesn't mean I cannot handle organising (sports events). People start to have a different perception."

With more than a dozen years spent abroad, Ling has preferred to keep a low profile, be it on the projects he has worked on or within the Singapore sport fraternity.

His rationale is simple. He said: "If you want to make yourself known, you have to have quality. I don't want to be an empty vessel just making noise.

"Singapore is small and we don't have a big population in the (international) sport field. So those of us who are out there have a responsibility to say and do the right thing. We are representatives of Singapore and it's an image we carry."

Still, he acknowledged it is time to play a bigger role - mainly because he wants to give back.

Ling, who is already helping to advise on other projects and deliver lectures to sport management students, revealed that he has plans to set up sport management courses and combine this with volunteerism as a way of "paying it forward".

"This whole experience has been really enjoyable," he said. "Hopefully, with more experience, I can contribute back to Singapore or somehow help put it on the map. It's time to give back."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2017, with the headline 'Carving his own path at the helm of sport'. Print Edition | Subscribe