The biggest enemy faced by an athlete, as sports psychologists are wont to say, is himself or herself. The cynical might point to a sports association instead, especially when its officials are plodding in their ways, cannot see eye to eye, or resort to mudslinging. Consequently, it's not just individuals who might find themselves bogged down but the entire sport could be engulfed in a quagmire.
Many might readily recall past controversies like those involving former athletics chief Loh Lin Kok who had, during his long reign, taken on national sportsmen, those vying for office, and the governing body of sports. The Table Tennis Association has had its share of contretemps, the most recent involving the nation's most-bemedalled Olympian, Feng Tianwei. At Singapore Athletics, internal dissension has flared up again. Described as "ugly" by insiders, it has led to the departure of two presidents in less than a year, with the South-east Asia Games about four months away.
But nothing can compare with the turmoil within the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) at which elections are scheduled to take place tomorrow, under the cloud of a police probe into the alleged misuse of Tiong Bahru Football Club funds and the blocking of audits at several clubs. Those being questioned include a former FAS president, its current general secretary, as well as Tiong Bahru's chairman and his wife. This is taking place against the decline of football here: the national team's fall in the rankings of Fifa (the international governing body) and poor attendances at national league matches. With the S-League (which is supposed to channel talent to the Singapore Lions) mired in uncertainty, fans wonder if football's heyday will ever return.
Some believe "paradigm-shifting changes" are now needed to lift the sport, others call for a move away from "elitism football". But whatever emerges as a result of the FAS elections, there is no denying that a sports association must first put its house in order if it wishes to make a difference.
Good governance is needed all the more because associations depend on the drive of many volunteers to achieve results. In many ways, volunteers are the lifeblood of sporting associations and their unsung achievements should not be overshadowed by high-profile cases. Without them, it would not be possible to nurture budding talent across all segments of society, often with "a special texture of care and passion", as put by Sport Singapore chief Lim Teck Yin.
To make the best use of the energy and expertise of volunteers, good leadership and sound financial systems are vital in an association. Leaders can help to ensure all are inspired by the common cause and efforts are sustained. Making changes for its own sake over electoral cycles might prove to be self-defeating as little will take root if there is unending discord.