Athletics: Not all happy with wild card criteria for Rio Olympics

Singapore Athletic Association (SAA) president Tang Weng Fei (centre) at SAA’s annual general meeting at the Singapore Sports School on June 29, 2011.
Singapore Athletic Association (SAA) president Tang Weng Fei (centre) at SAA’s annual general meeting at the Singapore Sports School on June 29, 2011.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Should no male track and field athlete qualify on merit for the Rio Olympic Games this August, a six-man panel from Singapore Athletics (SA) will decide who to award the wild card to.

The panel is headed by SA president Tang Weng Fei and will also include officials like vice-president (training and selection) C. Kunalan.

Rather than refer to the International Association of Athletics Federations' official scoring table, which is based on statistical data which allows for a comparison of results across events, the panel will employ its own criteria.

This includes considering athletes who performed well at last year's SEA Games or who have broken national records recently. Athletes who have already been to the Olympics on wild cards, which are given to countries that do not have athletes who qualify for the Games on merit, will not be considered.

"We've set up criteria. We're not against anyone," SA president Tang Weng Fei said yesterday. "The wild card is always a privilege."

He added that the IAAF scoring table tends to favour sprinters, while basing part of their selection on other factors now is more objective. Athletes have up till July 11 to qualify for the Olympic Games.

He said: "If we do it based on the scoring table, it will always be a sprinter going to the Olympic Games. But now there is incentive for everyone to try to qualify. It spurs the standards overall."

Wild cards have been awarded to male sprinters for the last three Games - Poh Seng Song (2004), Calvin Kang (2008) and Gary Yeo (2012).

Some, however, disagree with the new method of selection.

Said Kang: "I agree that the wild card is a privilege and not an entitlement, but I think the best in the country should still be the one going, whether or not he or she has gone to an Olympics before.

"Selection for events such as the world championships and world indoor championships is done based on the scoring table so why is it not when it comes to the Olympics?

"For us on the receiving end, it can be a bit frustrating, but it won't affect my training. It's going to be tough but no matter what I'll still be aiming to qualify.

"I just hope that the decision made in the end is one that is helpful for the sport."

May Chen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2016, with the headline 'Not all happy with wild card criteria'. Print Edition | Subscribe