Judo: SEA Games medallist Gary Chow slapped with 24-month ban from federation's competitions

Gary Chow had withdrawn from the 2019 SEA Games squad a day before the Singapore National Olympic Council's selection meeting.
Gary Chow had withdrawn from the 2019 SEA Games squad a day before the Singapore National Olympic Council's selection meeting.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Former national judo captain Gary Chow has been barred for 24 months from all competitions, events and programmes organised or sponsored by the Singapore Judo Federation (SJF), potentially ruling the three-time SEA Games medallist out of next year's event in Hanoi.

This was announced by the national sports association (NSA) in a Facebook post early Wednesday morning (April 1), following a Feb 21 report by the SJF Ad Hoc Disciplinary Committee (DC). The independent three-member DC comprised Chia Min Chong, Chris Holland and Ho Han Ming.

According to the four-page report published on SJF's website, the DC had taken Chow to task after he had withdrawn from the 2019 SEA Games squad a day before the Singapore National Olympic Council's (SNOC) selection meeting on Aug 1 for the biennial event.

Chow, who won a silver and two bronze medals in judo at three editions of the Games (2013, 2015, 2017), then switched to a different sport. He subsequently won the sambo men's 82kg class silver at the Nov 30-Dec11 Games in the Philippines.

When contacted by The Straits Times, the 29-year-old declined to comment on the matter.

The DC report noted that in July 1 and Sept 20 emails to SJF high performance manager Azfar Ali, the athlete had raised concerns about his judo preparations for the SEA Games and had said that "he had been unsuccessful in trying to find the motivation and drive to compete".

In its "findings of fact", the DC said that Chow had on July 1 last year represented to SJF that he would train full time in judo if his application to join Sport Singapore's (SportSG) Spex Glow scheme was successful. The scheme disburses grants to athletes for loss of wages.

In his email to SJF on July 31 informing it of his withdrawal from the judo squad, Chow had also copied SportSG and the SNOC without prior notice or consultation with them, said the report. He was reported to have made the 11th hour pullout to join the 2019 SEA Games sambo squad.

In its findings, it also said that the judo federation had borne certain costs for Chow's preparations for the Games as he had competed in some international competitions, and that he was aware that his pullout "could have an adverse impact on the morale of the Singapore judo team". His actions also made it difficult for the SJF to find a replacement for the 81kg category for the Games, resulting in the NSA being unable to field a four-man team for the team event.

The judo squad won a silver in the men's 100kg and two bronzes in the men's 73kg and 90kg at the SEA Games last December.

"The conduct of Mr Chow in connection with his withdrawal, in particular the manner and timing thereof, was conduct unbecoming, in particular taking into account his position as a Spex carded athlete who had competed in three SEA Games and as captain of the squad," said the DC.

With these findings, the DC had recommended to the SJF executive committee to "withhold any form of support for Mr Chow in connection with the sports of judo (including designating Mr Chow as ineligible to participate in competitions, events and programmes organised or sponsored by SJF) for a period of 24 months from Dec 31, 2019".

It also observed that while the athlete should have the freedom to choose whether to participate in any sport at any time, the timing and manner of his withdrawal allowed him to use the judo team's resources "until the last practicable timing before switching to qualify for the SEA Games sambo squad". Given the significance of the Games and his role as captain, he should have consulted with SJF his intention to withdraw "as opposed to presenting SJF with a fait accompli at a very late stage for the SEA Games 2019 cycle".

The DC's recommendations were taken up by the SJF, which announced its decision on Wednesday. Its president Yeo Chin Seng declined comment when contacted by ST.

As a result, Chow will not be able to compete in next year's SEA Games in Vietnam if judo is contested there, as the SJF website states that its selection criteria for the Games includes two selection trials, with the ineligibility ruling the judoka out of the competitions.

Mark Chay, chair of the SNOC Athletes Commission, told ST that Chow had spoken to him on whether to make the switch from judo to sambo. While he said the SJF's 24-month ban was surprising, the former national swimmer added: "The first course of action, if he wants to, is to appeal to the association. If there is no such route for appeal, he can approach the SNOC Athletes Commission and we can understand the matter from both sides. What matters is that the athlete has a voice and had fair representation."