SINGAPORE - After yet another episode of internal conflict within Singapore Athletics (SA), the authorities are stepping in to ensure that the athletes' preparations for the upcoming SEA Games will not be jeopardised.
The Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) and Sport Singapore (SportSG) announced on Friday (June 23) that they are jointly setting up a major Games preparation committee to take charge of track and field matters leading up to the Aug 19-30 event in Kuala Lumpur.
The committee has been set up "in order to insulate and safeguard the athletes' interests from the continuing internal strife in SA".
It is understood that the pro-tem body will be co-chaired by SNOC secretary-general Chris Chan and Singapore Sports Institute (SSI) chief Toh Boon Yi.
SNOC Athletes' Commission chairman Yip Ren Kai, a former national water polo player, has been appointed team manager with immediate effect. He will be assisted by Hoe Aik Teng, senior manager (partnership development) at SportSG and a former national high jumper. They will report directly to chef de mission Milan Kwee, as well as the major Games preparation committee.
In a statement, SNOC secretary-general Chris Chan said: "We are disappointed to see that despite constantly reminding our National Sports Associations to prioritise the interests of our athletes, disagreements and infighting have not ceased among the management committee members at Singapore Athletics.
"Unfortunately, their disputes are disrupting the athletes and officials preparing for the 2017 SEA Games. With less than two months to go (till) the SEA Games, preparing our athletes must be the foremost priority and any other personal agenda must be put aside and resolved for the sake of the sport and our athletes."
The move means the committee now assumes the responsibilities concerning the biennial Games, taking over from SA officials, including president Ho Mun Cheong - who has been at loggerheads with several members of the SA management including vice-president (training and selection) Govindasamy Balasekaran - and even high performance staff like technical director Volker Herrmann.
Leaked WhatsApp conversations in the past week highlighted the animosity between parties, suggesting that Balasekaran had instructed staff to "get evidence" in order to land local coaches Margaret Oh (sprint) and David Yeo (pole vault) into trouble.
The disagreement between SA and Oh, in particular, had concerned star sprinter Shanti Pereira and threatened to disrupt her preparations for the SEA Games, where she is attempting to defend her 200m title.
This is not the first time that the SNOC and SportSG have stepped in after NSAs were either unable, or deemed incapable of taking charge of a sport. Gymnastics was found to be in a similar plight in 2001.
After the national governing body, known as the Singapore Amateur Gymnastics Association then, was delisted by the SNOC in 2001, a Major Games Preparation Committee was set up with the then-Singapore Sports Council's help to organise trials and recommend athletes. Seven gymnasts eventually took part that year.