World body casts doubt on para-athlete decision

Para-archer Syahidah Alim in action during training.ST VIDEO: NICHOLAS DE SILVA
Cerebral palsy sufferer Syahidah Alim hoped to compete against able-bodied athletes at the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur. World Archery said para-athletes are eligible to compete, despite the SEA Games Federation (SEAGF) rejecting a request by the Singap
Cerebral palsy sufferer Syahidah Alim hoped to compete against able-bodied athletes at the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur. World Archery said para-athletes are eligible to compete, despite the SEA Games Federation (SEAGF) rejecting a request by the Singapore National Olympic Council in March.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SEA Games archery berth in limbo but Syahidah will respect eventual outcome

Singaporean para-archer Nur Syahidah Alim's bid to compete in August's SEA Games appears to be in limbo.

The Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) had requested permission from the SEA Games Federation (SEAGF) for the 32-year-old, who has cerebral palsy, to shoot while seated on a stool and appoint another person to collect her arrows during the Games.

But this proposal was rejected by the SEAGF at an executive committee meeting in March.

The meeting, chaired by SEAGF and Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) president Tan Sri Tunku Imran Tuanku Ja'afar was attended by national Olympic council (NOC) members from the participating countries. The majority of the members voted against the proposal.

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OCM secretary-general Low Beng Choo reiterated Tunku Imran's earlier comments to Malaysian media, insisting that the federation must be fair to able-bodied athletes and not set a precedent where para-athletes enjoy an advantage.

In an interview with The Straits Times (ST), the 54-year-old lawyer insisted that the federation is not excluding Syahidah from the Games: "She can take part but all athletes must compete on the same terms and conditions."

DIFFERENT INTERPRETATION

There is no such rule. An athlete can always delegate another person to collect his or her arrows. In final rounds, the athlete never collects his own arrows.

TOM DIELEN, secretary-general and executive director of World Archery, the sport's international governing body.

However, World Archery (WA), the sport's international governing body, told ST that para-athletes should be able to compete at the SEA Games.

Tom Dielen, its secretary-general and executive director said: "They (para-athletes) are eligible to compete on the condition that they have an international classification card which describes the additional equipment they are authorised to have.

"This would have been the case for the athlete from Singapore."

ST understands that Syahidah possesses an international classification card permitting her use of the stool that she sits on to shoot.

According to the WA official rule book, there is no restriction on an athlete appointing another person to collect their arrows.

Citing Article 14.1.7. in the rule book, Dielen explained: "There is no such rule. An athlete can always delegate another person to collect his or her arrows.

"In final rounds, the athlete never collects his own arrows. This is always done by an athlete agent."

When ST pointed out WA's stance, Low repeated her earlier statement and mentioned that the SEAGF determines entry and eligibility criteria according to the SEA Games charter.

While the SEAGF is unwilling to set a precedent, para-archers have been competing in able-bodied international events since 1996, when wheelchair-bound Paola Fantato represented Italy in the women's individual event at the Atlanta Olympics. At last year's Rio Olympics, Iranian Zahra Nemati, also wheelchair-bound, followed suit in the same event.

Syahidah has been competing in able-bodied events since joining the SEA Games training squad earlier this year. She clinched a silver in the women's 50m compound team event at the SEA Open Archery Championships in January before placing 19th out of 54 archers at Stage 1 of the Asia Cup World Ranking Tournament in March.

The Spex Scholarship recipient was initially disappointed at the SEAGF's decision but has since taken the decision in her stride.

The corporate strategy executive at Sport Singapore has been on no-pay leave since May so she can train full time for two years.

The 2015 Asean Para Games double gold medallist is looking to retain her titles at the Games in September in addition to eyeing a podium finish at the 2020 Paralympics.

When asked if she would consider appealing against the decision, she said: "I'll let the higher-ups do that but I'll respect whatever decision is made. I'll just train and do my best."

Despite SEAGF's decision, Archery Association of Singapore president Tang Chang Poh confirmed the submission of Syahidah's name to SNOC under the entry-by-name nomination call for the SEA Games.

The deadline for the various NOCs to submit names to the SEAGF is June 30.

Whether Syahidah will feature in the SEA Games remains to be seen as the final list of athletes will be revealed only early next month.

Syahidah has no regrets about trying for a SEA Games spot, claiming that the entire experience has improved her archery.

She remarked: "It was actually a very worthwhile experience for me to go for able-bodied events and train with the squad... I would do it again if I had the chance."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2017, with the headline 'World body casts doubt on Para-Athlete decision'. Print Edition | Subscribe