SINGAPORE - National marathoner Soh Rui Yong, who retained his SEA Games gold in Kuala Lumpur last month, has protested against having to donate part of his award money to Singapore Athletics (SA).
He feels the association is undeserving of the gesture, following the bitter disputes and controversies that have plagued the organisation over the past year.
As an individual SEA Games gold medallist, Soh will receive $10,000 under the Multi-Million Dollar Award Programme (MAP), which provides a cash payout to athletes who win medals at the Olympic, Asian, Commonwealth and SEA Games.
The incentive scheme was devised by the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) in the 1990s. The Tote Board/Singapore Pools is the primary sponsor of the SNOC MAP awards.
Athletes are required to donate 20 per cent of the MAP awards from the SEA, Asian and Olympic Games to their national sports association (NSA) for future training and development. For the Commonwealth Games, the amount to be donated is 50 per cent.
Soh told The Sunday Times on Saturday (Sept 16) that he decided to lodge a protest because he believes "the 20 per cent of gold-medal prize money that every athlete is required to give back to the NSA should not be taken for granted".
The 26-year-old added: "For the 2017 SEA Games, SA has not only failed to adequately help our athletes, but it has also hindered the performance of several athletes with continued infighting, turmoil and poor administration."
Sprinter Shanti Pereira, who did not retain her 200m crown from the 2015 Games in Singapore, admitted after the KL Games that she had been affected by the discord, particularly that between her coach Margaret Oh and SA technical director Volker Herrmann.
On the day of the Aug 19 SEA Games marathon, Herrmann had allegedly shouted at Soh before the race as the latter had cut holes in his singlet to cope with the heat and humidity in Malaysia. Soh told The Sunday Times: "I think the fuss that SA kicked up over the holes in my singlet was the last straw."
On Thursday, Hermann acknowledged that his management methods needed adjusting though he insisted that some of the disputes with athletes were due to misunderstandings and that he only wanted them to reach their potential.
Soh acknowledged that he had signed a Team Singapore agreement stating that he would have to donate 20 per cent of his MAP prize money back to SA.
But he deemed this scenario an "exceptional case" where the NSA had not helped its athletes, adding: "I see this not as flouting the agreement but respectfully questioning the logic behind this rule, and exploring options if the intention of the rule (for example, thanking NSAs for helping the athletes achieve results) is not the case that is actually happening."
Instead, he has suggested that athletes use the percentage of the money to defray the expenses they incurred while preparing for the SEA Games, or donating it to a charity of their choice.
SA president Ho Mun Cheong told ST that he has no objections to Soh's protest, as long as the relevant authorities are in agreement on the matter.
"The money is for the athletes and they deserve it - they've trained so hard and they won gold for the country," he added. "If Michelle Sng (the high jumper who won athletics' other gold at the SEA Games) wants to do the same, I have no objections as well."
An SNOC spokesman said: "The SNOC Multi-million Award Programme is an incentive initiative to reward medallists at the SEA, Commonwealth, Asian and Olympic Games. It is mandatory for recipients of the SNOC MAP to give 20 per cent of the awards to their NSAs for future training and development.
"This requirement is among the conditions agreed between the SNOC and our sponsors which we have to fulfil."
The Straits Times has reached out to the Tote Board family for comment.
Sng could not be reached for comment.