Singapore Athletics saga

Politics of sport

The leaked WhatsApp conversation appeared to show SA vice-president Govindasamy Balasekaran instructing staff to collect evidence so that disciplinary action would have to be taken against two local coaches.
The leaked WhatsApp conversation appeared to show SA vice-president Govindasamy Balasekaran instructing staff to collect evidence so that disciplinary action would have to be taken against two local coaches. PHOTO: ST FILE

Leaked WhatsApp messages shock sports fraternity as they reflect degree of hostility within SA's leadership

Five people, two messages and numerous disagreements have led to one messy fiasco that has yet to be resolved.

In June, photos of a controversial WhatsApp conversation involving key officials and Singapore Athletics' (SA) sports development and performance (SDP) team were leaked. In one message, Mr Govindasamy Balasekaran, SA vice-president (training and selection), instructed his staff to "get good evidence" to be shown to "P", believed to be SA president Ho Mun Cheong, and "force him to get disciplinary action" on local coaches Margaret Oh (sprints) and David Yeo (pole vault).

In another message, Mr Balasekaran wrote: "Margaret needs to get into trouble so we can take action on her."

SA staff - including technical director Volker Herrmann, SDP manager Ong Wan Xin, senior executive Shalindran Sathiyanesan and general manager Jaime Cheong - were also part of the said conversation.

The incident, which was revealed just two months before the SEA Games in August, shocked the wider sports fraternity as it reflected the degree of hostility within SA's leadership and secretariat.

Ms Oh, coach of 2015 SEA Games women's 200m champion Shanti Pereira, had clashed with Mr Herrmann over Pereira's participation in a pre-SEA Games centralised training camp in Taiwan. Ms Oh had felt the constant travelling would lead to fatigue for her charge, who was to compete at the Asian Athletics Championships in India in July. The feud led to 21-year-old Pereira's place in the SEA Games 4x100m relay team being in jeopardy.

Pole vault coach Mr Yeo was also at odds with Mr Herrmann, who did not want to authorise 16-year-old Cherlin Sia's appearance at the Thailand Open in June without a doctor's clearance as the teenager had suffered an injury the month before. Mr Yeo believed his athlete could recover in time and, after obtaining the necessary medical clearance, sought approval from the SA president when Mr Herrmann did not respond.

A week after the leak, the Singapore National Olympic Council and Sport Singapore jointly set up a major Games preparation committee to take charge of athletics' preparations for the SEA Games, so that athletes would not be affected by the officials' squabbles.

At the Games in Kuala Lumpur, the Republic's track and field contingent took home two golds (men's marathon, women's high jump), two silvers and four bronzes. Pereira did not retain her crown and later admitted that she had been affected by the dispute.

In July, a board of inquiry was convened to investigate the incident. The board, comprising SA's chairman of race walking Leong Lee San, SA's chairman of officials Joe Yap and Wings Athletic Club president Jezreel Mok, concluded in October that the association should refer the matter to an independent disciplinary committee.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2017, with the headline 'Politics of sport'. Print Edition | Subscribe