SINGAPORE – Singapore Athletics (SA) chief Tang Weng Fei on Thursday night (July 16) explained its decision to propose the removal of voting rights for its athletes’ commission (AC) representative as part of a review of its constitution, a move which has drawn criticism from some quarters.
He told The Straits Times that while the AC representative has been a part of SA’s management committee since last year, there were no “proper processes” set out in the national track and field body’s constitution with regard to the role.
As a result, the AC representative is appointed based on “internal processes, not vetted by affiliated members”, said Tang, and SA sought to rectify this with the amendment.
“While the AC representative was to have a voting right on the board... (SA) was uncertain about the initial, infant processes of setting up the new constitutionally-instituted athletes’ commission, and was concerned about the dilution of the voting rights of the board members who were directly elected by affiliated members,” he explained.
“This position was communicated to SportSG (national sports agency Sport Singapore).
“SA takes the view that the empowerment of persons on the board (with the necessary voting rights) should be based only on the democratic votes of the affiliated members.”
He also noted that at the SA extraordinary general meeting (EOGM) to debate the constitutional changes on Monday, “the position of the MC was communicated to the affiliated members”.
Highlighting that the issue of voting rights affected all non-elected board members and not just the athletes’ commission, he added: “It was emphasised that the athletes’ commission representative was an appointed board member, and all appointed board members are proposed to not be afforded voting rights on the board.”
He pointed out that 13 of the 20 affiliate members present had voted in favour of rescinding the AC representative’s voting rights although this meant the proposed amendment remains unresolved.
This is owing to differing opinions over the interpretation of the voting procedures spelt out in SA’s constitution, after two members abstained from voting.
SA’s charter states that alterations or deletions to the constitution can be passed only “with the consent of two-thirds of voting members present”.
One of SA’s two legal advisers believed the two-thirds rule should apply to all 20 members that were present, meaning 14 votes are needed to pass the proposal, while the other adviser said the rule should apply to only the 18 who voted, meaning only 12 votes are needed to make the change set.
Tang has said SA would seek “independent legal opinion” on the matter.
He issued Thursday night’s statement in response to a leaked audio recording of the EOGM’s proceedings. In the clip, Tang was heard responding to a question from Ron Koh, the honorary secretary of Wings Athletics Club, one of SA’s 23 affiliate members, on why SA proposed removing the voting rights of the AC representative.
Tang had replied: “I think even in World Athletics, there is an athletes’ commission (and) that appointment has no voting rights in World Athletics.
“And mind you, these clauses are mandatory clauses set up by SportSG, not by us.”
A SportSG spokesman had told ST on Tuesday night that it provided “guidance through a set of governance principles for national sports associations (NSAs) and a template of a model constitution”.
These were developed after consultation with the Registry of Societies (ROS), Commissioner of Charities (COC) and Singapore National Olympic Council.
The SportSG template of a model constitution lists the athletes’ commission chairman or representative as having voting rights, although it is not a requirement of the ROS or COC. The template calls for the chairman to be appointed to the board and be elected to his or her position by national athletes, not by the association’s affiliates.
The SportSG spokesman added: “They (the templates) provide our NSAs a basis to structure and implement their organisation and instruments for proper governance, while accounting for the specific circumstances of their sport...
“We have given our views on their proposed amendments and requested (that SA) share with us the revised version...
“(We have) not reviewed the latest amendments SA has circulated to its members.”
However, Tang has insisted that SA had been “informed, in writing, that the SportSG ‘sample clauses’ provided to us are ‘mandatory’, in accordance with SportSG’s ‘mandatory governance principles’, and requirements by ROS and the COC”.
“As SA performs as a NSA under SportSG, a society under ROS, and a charity under COC, SA understood its responsibilities to align itself with the requirements by the authoritative bodies,” he added.
The removal of voting rights for the AC representative was one of three proposed amendments to SA’s charter that were not passed during Monday night’s EOGM.
Another mooted change, to keep proceedings in management committee meetings confidential, was also held up because of the interpretation of the two-thirds majority voting procedure.
A third proposed amendment, to change the criteria for affiliate membership by requiring clubs to submit documents such as financial reports and minutes of general meetings, was discarded.
These proposed changes had sparked unease among some SA affiliates and the track and field fraternity.
Both Wings Athletic Club and Club Zoom had expressed concerns about transparency and accountability with the proposal about minutes being kept confidential.
Two-time SEA Games marathon champion Soh Rui Yong, who sued SA for defamation last year over its statement on his non-selection for the 2019 edition of the Games, said in a Facebook post on Monday that proposing to remove voting rights for the athletes’ commission representative shows that SA “does not care for the opinions of its athletes”.