Soh given formal warning on social media posts

Soh Rui Yong defended himself, insisting that he was not trying to promote any brands.
Soh Rui Yong defended himself, insisting that he was not trying to promote any brands.

Marathoner Soh Rui Yong has been given a formal warning by Singapore's Major Games Preparation Committee and told to remove some of his social media posts.

The SEA Games defending men's marathon champion had been at odds with the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) for promoting his personal sponsors during an official blackout period for the SEA Games.

Yesterday, SNOC secretary general Chris Chan said in a statement: "Toh Boon Yi, the co-chairman of the Major Games Preparation Committee - which has been administrating and managing the SEA Games 2017 athletics team since June 2017 - met (Soh) today and issued a formal warning, advising him to cease the infringements. Failing which, disciplinary proceedings will follow accordingly. Rui Yong has agreed to comply from now on.

"Representing Singapore at (a) major Games is a privilege which many athletes hope for (and) one that must be treated with utmost respect and responsibility on the part of an athlete. As representatives and ambassadors of the country, there is a code of conduct which athletes and officials have to abide by. There is no exception to this.

"We hope Rui Yong will now focus on this preparations seriously and cooperate with the officials to get ready for the SEA Games."

The Straits Times understands that Soh was given until 11.59pm yesterday to remove the social media posts in question. Failing this, the SNOC disciplinary committee could exclude him from competition or fine him.

Chan said Soh was served a formal warning by SEA Games chef de mission Milan Kwee and athletics team manager Yip Ren Kai, after he failed to comply with Team Singapore's membership agreement on the personal sponsorship blackout period from Aug 5 to Sept 5.

The rules, developed by the International Olympic Committee, ban Singapore's athletes from promoting personal sponsors on social media in order to "prevent ambush marketing and protect the marks and association of the Games and the team from unauthorised use".

Chan said: "However, since the meeting, he has reneged on his promises and repeatedly breached the team membership agreement. Despite many reminders and our constant guidance offered to him, he has not fully complied."

Soh won marathon gold in the 2015 Games with a time of 2hr 34min 56sec, and is slated to compete alongside compatriot Mok Ying Ren in Saturday's marathon.

In an e-mail to The Straits Times, the 26-year-old expressed unhappiness that the SNOC had issued a media statement on the incident.

He explained that "it's kind of weird" that the SNOC issued a statement after meeting him and shaking hands "on a gentlemen's agreement that the posts would be taken down".

He added: "Naturally, I feel betrayed that a press release was released just hours after the meeting."

Since the blackout came into effect, Soh had shared on his Facebook page on Aug 11, 12, and 13, posts that promoted two of his personal sponsors. He also posted on Instagram a picture of himself in nothing but his underwear and 2015 gold medal with the hashtag #NoSponsorZone attached.

Soh explained that his Facebook posts were for "sharing other people's good luck wishes" while the underwear post was his attempt at humour on social media.

He insisted: "I definitely wasn't trying to promote any brands, so to me it wasn't a violation of the rules. I was never told that sharing posts by other people was not allowed."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2017, with the headline 'Soh given formal warning on social media posts'. Print Edition | Subscribe