Why It Matters

Athletes come first

After yet another ugly episode of infighting within Singapore Athletics (SA), the authorities have stepped in to assume direct responsibility for the athletes' campaign for the upcoming SEA Games.

The creation of the major Games preparation committee, helmed by the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) and SportSingapore (SportSG), speaks volumes.

It is a rare intervention not seen since 2001, and signals the importance the two bodies place on ensuring that the track and field athletes' preparation for the Aug 19-30 SEA Games remains on track and that any potential podium finishes are not jeopardised by politicking.

More significantly, following a leaked WhatsApp conversation among officials and staff at SA, which suggested that a member of its top brass was trying to land two leading coaches in trouble, the move can - at least for now - help to safeguard athletes' interests. For many, it may be unbecoming for someone who was elected to office - after making a promise to serve - to end up making moves that could short-change the sport.

Yet for keen observers, and those within the athletics fraternity, it was simply the latest episode of acrimony within a fractious organisation that has been wracked by infighting for decades. That athletes are no longer surprised by such goings-on is both telling and sad.

A national sports association, the governing body of a sport, is responsible for developing it. It exists to support its athletes as they toil to perfect their craft. For all their sacrifices, the very least athletes deserve in return is the assurance that any decision taken by officials is made with the athletes' interests at heart.

Sport is a gathering of intense, passionate and dedicated people who will - and should - have ideas and strong opinions.

It will mean disagreement, but it must never be forgotten that athletes always come first.

The trust that athletes place in officials to do that must always be honoured.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2017, with the headline 'Athletes come first'. Print Edition | Subscribe