Committee takes up baton

Shanti Pereira's 200m gold was one of the highlights of the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore. However, her preparations for her title defence have been marred by officials' bickering.
Shanti Pereira's 200m gold was one of the highlights of the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore. However, her preparations for her title defence have been marred by officials' bickering.ST FILE PHOTO

SNOC, SportSG set up pro-tem body to take charge of athletics' SEA Games preparations

The fractious state of Singapore Athletics (SA), with yet another internal conflict surfacing over the past week, has led authorities to deem it necessary to step in.

A major Games preparation committee has been set up jointly by the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) and Sport Singapore (SportSG) to take charge of athletics' preparations for the Aug 19-30 SEA Games.

Announced yesterday, the pro-tem body will be co-chaired by SNOC secretary-general Chris Chan and Singapore Sports Institute chief Toh Boon Yi. Its mission: to ensure that track and field athletes' preparations for the Kuala Lumpur Games are not jeopardised by officials' bickering.

Chan said the committee was initiated "to insulate and safeguard the athletes' interests from the continuing internal strife in SA".

SNOC Athletes' Commission chairman Yip Ren Kai, a former national water polo player, was appointed team manager. He will be assisted by former national high jumper Hoe Aik Teng, a senior manager (partnership development) at SportSG. They will report to chef de mission Milan Kwee and the committee.

Chan added: "We are disappointed to see that despite constantly reminding our national sports associations to prioritise the interests of our athletes, disagreements and infighting have not ceased among the management committee members at SA.

"Unfortunately, their disputes are disrupting the athletes and officials preparing for the 2017 SEA Games. With less than two months to go (till) the SEA Games, preparing our athletes must be the foremost priority and any other personal agenda must be put aside and resolved for the sake of the sport and our athletes."

PUTTING A STOP TO DISRUPTIONS

Unfortunately, their disputes are disrupting the athletes and officials preparing for the 2017 SEA Games.

CHRIS CHAN, SNOC secretary-general, on why a major Games preparation committee was formed to take charge of athletics' preparations for the Aug 19-30 Kuala Lumpur Games.

The move means the committee takes the responsibilities concerning athletics for the Games out of SA officials' hands. This includes president Ho Mun Cheong and vice-president (training and selection) Govindasamy Balasekaran - who have been at loggerheads for months.

A leaked WhatsApp chat in the past week exposed the degree of rancour between SA officials. It suggested that Balasekaran had instructed SA staff to "get evidence" to land local coaches Margaret Oh (sprint) and David Yeo (pole vault) in trouble. The acrimony threatened to disrupt sprinter Shanti Pereira's preparations for the biennial Games, where the 20-year-old will be defending her 200m title.

High performance staff at the association, however, will still be consulted and involved in decisions.

"Ultimately, they are the experts in athletics," Yip told The Straits Times yesterday, noting that one of the first issues he hopes to resolve is the location of the controversial centralised training camp.

"Our role is to work with the high performance side to see how best we can prepare our athletes."

The venue of the camp was the subject of the dispute between Balasekaran, SA staff, and Oh. It was slated to take place in three weeks' time in Taiwan, but the SA management committee this week voted against holding it there.

Added Yip, who competed in three SEA Games and has headed the Athletes' Commission for four years: "Our role is to make sure the welfare of the athletes is looked after and to make sure there's no disruption to their preparations.

"It's just to keep everyone cohesive and constantly remind them that we don't represent any side."

While setting up such a body is not unprecedented, it is a move that the authorities have not been compelled to make since 2001.

Then, gymnastics' national governing body - known as the Singapore Amateur Gymnastics Association at that time - was delisted by the SNOC. A major Games preparation committee was set up to organise trials and recommend athletes for the SEA Games that year.

SEE ALSO C15

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline 'Committee takes up baton'. Print Edition | Subscribe