Singapore Athletics officials never counselled me, says Soh Rui Yong in court

Soh Rui Yong took to the stand for five-and-a-half hours on Jan 12, 2022. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Top national marathoner Soh Rui Yong on Wednesday (Jan 12) rejected the suggestion that he was counselled on his conduct by officials from Singapore Athletics (SA) prior to his non-selection for the SEA Games in 2019.

This emerged in court on the second day of the defamation trial against former SA executive director Malik Aljunied.

Soh, 30, is alleging Malik, 54, made defamatory comments in a Facebook post and remarks on the same post's thread in August 2019, shortly after he was dropped from the 2019 SEA Games by a Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) selection committee.

The runner took to the stand for five-and-a-half hours on Wednesday as the cross-examination by defence counsel Mahmood Gaznavi continued.

Gaznavi brought up a meeting in April 2019 when Malik - who was then SA vice-president (training and selection) - and then-SA honorary secretary Ang Peng Siong sought to address Soh's breach of the national sports association's athlete code of conduct, as well as SNOC's team membership agreement.

"It was not a counselling session as they allege," said Soh.

But Gaznavi put it to Soh that the meeting was called because of the various controversies he had been involved in and SA "saw fit to counsel you". The marathoner insisted that he did not know what the meeting was for and that it "was never mentioned to me as a counselling session".

Among the objectives of SA's meeting was to explain to Soh how his conduct was "unbefitting as a national athlete" and give advice on how to "repair the situation" with the SNOC, said Gaznavi, who added that Malik later sent an e-mail to then-SA president Tang Weng Fei saying these objectives were met.

"So you are saying in spite of what (Malik) wrote to Mr Tang, he did not do these things?" asked Gaznavi.

Soh replied: "I don't believe he did… This (e-mail) doesn't show what happened at the meeting."

He also denied receiving counselling on several occasions by former SA legal adviser Edmond Pereira - who is president of the local athletics club Soh is a member of - although he did agree one exchange featured Pereira "trying to advise" him.

On Wednesday Gaznavi also sought to paint Soh as being "unreasonable" through his various publicised controversies with the authorities over the years. These included infractions of the team membership agreement at the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, where he successfully defended his marathon gold medal.

Then, Soh was served a formal warning following his breach of regulations regarding the promotion of personal sponsors during the sponsors' "blackout" period.

He had also courted the ire of SNOC officials by not reporting to the airport in the required footwear - he explained in court this was because of an injury - as well as his initial refusal to comply with SNOC's mandatory requirement to donate 20 per cent of his cash reward for his win to SA for training and development purposes.

Incidents such as Soh's comments against former teammate Ashley Liew - which led to a defamation suit brought on by the latter - had cast local athletics, SA and the SNOC in a bad light, said Gaznavi. Soh disagreed to all the assertions.

Gaznavi's cross examination of Soh continues on Thursday. The case is expected to be in court till next Monday, with a number of prominent sports figures like Tang, Ang and SNOC secretary general Chris Chan lined up as witnesses for the defendant.

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