Team Ho eyeing local flavour in athletics

Singapore Athletics president Ho Mun Cheong (standing) and his committee members Govindasamy Balasekaran and Loh Chan Pew have acknowledged the challenge ahead to deliver more success.
Singapore Athletics president Ho Mun Cheong (standing) and his committee members Govindasamy Balasekaran and Loh Chan Pew have acknowledged the challenge ahead to deliver more success.PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Newly-elected president pledges to give S'porean coaches chance to lead elite squads

Singapore Athletics' new president Ho Mun Cheong was ill on his first day on the job and needed to see a doctor.

But the 67-year-old, who beat lawyer Edmond Pereira, 66, to the post in Monday's annual general meeting, was clear about what needed to be fixed in the sport.

And it looks like athletics is set to enjoy a more local flavour over the next couple of years.

For a start, Ho and his team are keen to develop local coaches with an eye to getting more of them to helm the elite squads.

He said: "We think that local coaches are just as capable and qualified as (some) foreign ones."

To that end, he plans to bring in a foreign technical director to improve the skills of the local coaches. The technical director post has not been filled since former distance runner C. Veeramani held the position in 2010.

WALKING THE TALK

People still want to see results. We can promise a lot but if we cannot deliver results, it's no use.

HO MUN CHEONG, Singapore Athletics president, on the biggest challenge for his newly elected team.

The management committee's new stance casts a cloud over the future of national coach for sprints, relays and hurdles Luis Cunha. The Portuguese, a three-time Olympian, was brought in on a two-year deal in November 2014.

In terms of athlete development, the new SA management team is also keen to stay closer to home, by selecting competitions and training stints within Asia.

Stressing the need for prudence, Ho wants athletes to look at countries like China and neighbours Malaysia before casting their eyes towards Europe or the United States.

The former SA honorary secretary said: "We've got to be stricter in our selection of which overseas training and competitions to go for.

"Why do we have to send them (the athletes) so far when they can find one in Asia or South-east Asia? When you talk about competition and training camps, there are many in the region and the standards in places such as Taiwan, China, Japan are equally high. We can save on air travel and other costs.

"If you are looking for high-altitude training, Kunming in China is a good place too.

"We can send them to places far away if it is justified, but we must be financially prudent."

His right-hand man, vice-president (competitions organising) Loh Chan Pew, 71, added: "It is not easy to beat the Hong Kong and Thai athletes. Why must we pay $3,000 to $4,000 to compete in Europe?"

Among the first things the new exco will create is an athletes' commission, a group consisting of sportsmen past and present to monitor athletes' welfare.

Ho said: "A lot of them voice their unhappiness on Facebook, because their grievances don't get heard or addressed properly."

At ground level, the clubs hope that a cohesive governing body will bring greater success on the international stage.

Saravanan Tabethu, 39, head coach at Club Zoom, said: "We look forward to more events and improvement of both our elite and youth athletes.

"At the club level, we are always looking at producing good athletes to bring up to the next level."

Wings Athletic Club vice-president Jezreel Mok, 34, asked for funds to be disbursed to the clubs to help defray costs of organising track and field events. He said: "With more funds, we can initiate more events rather than focusing on just one main event in a year."

Mok also hopes Ho's team can bring more international events to the local calendar, like the Asia Masters Athletic Championships last month. He said: "This (two-year) term will not have many major events, so we hope they will bring some world-class events here."

While having wish lists and plans is important, Ho is well aware that ultimately, his team will be judged on results and medals.

He said: "The biggest challenge is the results. People still want to see results. We can promise a lot but if we cannot deliver results, it's no use."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2016, with the headline 'Team Ho eyeing local flavour in athletics'. Print Edition | Subscribe