Ellen Lee will serve as the Singapore Table Tennis Association's (STTA) president for a third two-year term after her team defeated challenger Toh Kian Lam and his team 3H during a 3½-hour biennial general meeting and election at the HDB Hub yesterday.
Forty of the 41 voting members were present and a total of 19 members were elected to the management committee to serve from 2018 to 2020. The STTA declined to reveal the vote count.
Speaking to the media, the 61-year-old lawyer was candid about the challenges ahead.
Lee said: "I'm glad there is strong support for myself and my team. This gives us a lot of confidence to carry out the activities and plans we have in place to take the sport forward."
One of the main talking points ahead of this election had been the declining results of both the men and women's national teams.
At the recent Asian Games in Jakarta, they failed to win a women's team medal for the first time since 1998 and did not even field a men's team.
At the Olympics, they won a silver in 2008, which faded to bronze in 2012, and then nothing in 2016.
CONCERNED ABOUT DECLINE TOO
It's not that we are blind to what's happening. In any sport, you can't always be staying on top for a number of factors... We are focused on developing our local core.
ELLEN LEE, STTA president.
From the high of beating China for the 2010 World Team Table Tennis Championship title, they were knocked out by Ukraine in the round of 16 this year.
The plan to raise the standard of local-born paddlers to world-class standards via the employment of foreign talent has also failed to materialise as none have so far cracked and maintained a top-100 ranking.
Lee, who confirmed that the foreign talent scheme has been put on hold, said: "Of course, we are concerned. It's not that we are blind to what's happening. In any sport, you can't always be staying on top for a number of factors. We know there's a gap for which many factors come into play and we did not intentionally create this gap.
"Currently, we are focused on developing our local core. If and when there is a change in policy and we are asked to look into it (the foreign talent scheme), we will."
STTA deputy president Soon Min Sin added that the association will look at providing a "better training environment" by further intensifying the training programme, getting better sparring partners and sending the young players to overseas championships and even participate in Chinese leagues to "expose and stretch them".
Physical and mental aspects will also be taken into account with the help of sports psychologists and physiotherapists.
THE NEW STTA TEAM
A total of 19 members were elected to the management committee to serve from 2018 to 2020. The office holders are:
Soon Min Sin
Lim Soon Hock
Teo Nam Meng
Han Ngge Juan
HONORARY ASSISTANT SECRETARY
HONORARY ASSISTANT TREASURER
Jeffrey Lee, Joseph Lau, Tang Mun Fai, Lee Yan Peng, Alex Tan, Richard Pang, Alan Goh, Ho Kok Khun, Francis Lee.
Highlighting 13-year-old Zhou Jingyi's No. 8 position in the women's world Under-15 rankings as an indication that the STTA is on the right path, Soon said: "There is great hope - and definitely potential - for us to be able to go beyond South-east Asia.
"If we are able to improve on the quality of sparring partners and continue working on it, I believe our local-born players can be very close or even match our foreign talents. This is what we have been aiming at."
With the recent retirements of Isabelle Li and Pang Xuejie, Lee and her team acknowledged that a major challenge with local-born paddlers is getting them to commit for the long term.
STTA deputy president Alex Yam said the association will continue its current work with different partners such as the Singapore Sports School and local and foreign universities to provide options for life after table tennis.
He added: "We've got to deal with the players themselves, parents, our own pathways, and see whether all of these gel together.
"We are trying to close as many of the gaps as possible to make that decision much easier for younger Singaporeans and their parents to commit to a lifetime in professional sports."
Despite not having a single member from his slate voted in, former national youth paddler Toh, 52, and his team said they will continue to contribute to the sport in various ways.
His team had disputed the voting mechanism - votes for members were taken first, before the office bearers, and the president last, in contrast to the previous election in which it was the other way around. But the format was ultimately approved by a majority vote.
Toh was otherwise graceful in defeat, and said: "I congratulate Ellen for winning the election and I would like to thank those who have voted for us and those who did not.
"I feel she has the heart to do the job, I hope she can find people who know table tennis and have experience to come in and help... if she follows past precedence, the results will be the same."
Another issue brought up by Toh in his campaign was the composition of the STTA's membership, noting that 27 are grassroots organisations which he claimed do not add further value to its running.
While reiterating that the members are involved in areas such as STTA events, organising tournaments, outreach programmes and fund-raising on top of playing table tennis, Lee said: "We will be looking at the constitution comprehensively. What needs to be changed, we will change it."
The STTA added in a statement that it will "continuously improve the legal, regulatory, and institutional framework for corporate governance and to comply with all statutory and Sport Singapore regulations and requirements".