Spectre of controversy continues to haunt Singapore Athletics

Discord and internal strife have plagued Singapore Athletics for decades. ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

SINGAPORE - Singapore Athletics (SA) has, once again, hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

A WhatsApp conversation which made its way into the public domain on Sunday (June 18) laid bare the level of internal strife within the local track and field governing body.

In the chat, SA vice-president (training and selection) Govindasamy Balasekaran was shown to be instructing 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 coaches Margaret Oh (sprint) and David Yeo (pole vault).

Balasekaran also wrote: "Margaret needs to get into trouble so we can take action on her."

The discord between coaches and management is believed to have stemmed from disputes concerning their charges.

Top brass Balasekaran and Ho have also been at loggerheads for months with the former accusing the latter of leaking the chat. The animosity between the two heightened in April when Ho announced his intention to call an extraordinary general meeting which would clear the way for snap polls and the election of new faces.

The bid to call a snap election is believed to have been prompted by numerous disagreements over a myriad of issues, which has torn the executive committee (exco) apart.

But friction within SA's ranks is not new. The Straits Times documents the turbulent history of the organisation:

1. Tang Weng Fei steps down in 2016

Tang Weng Fei stepped down as Singapore Athletics president in 2016 after two stints totalling eight years, citing infighting among exco members. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

The former national hurdler served as president of the SA over two stints spanning from 2004-2006 and 2010-2016. Tang stepped down in 2016 citing infighting within the executive committee (exco). Disagreements during his second stint saw former allies - vice-presidents Ho and Steven Lee, and Loh Chan Pew - switching camps in the 2014 election where their team won five seats out of 14, forming a split committee.

2. Loh Lin Kok and Edmond Pereira

The tussle between lawyers Loh Lin Kok and Edmond Pereira for the SA presidency lasted over three decades. While they reconciled in 2016 and Loh endorsed Pereira for the top post, the latter lost to Ho Mun Cheong. PHOTOS: THE NEW PAPER

The tussle between the two lawyers stretched over more than three decades. Pereira challenged Loh for the SA presidency on two occasions - 1983 and 2000- but was unsuccessful in both attempts. The pair eventually reconciled in 2016 resulting in Loh's endorsement of Pereira for the presidency in the SA election. Despite Loh's support, Pereira suffered his third loss, this time to Ho.

3. Clashes with local athletes

Muhammad Hosni training para-athlete, long jumper Suhairi Suhani, at Bishan Stadium in March 2016. He retired from competition after being at odds with SA over financial and training support. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

The turn of the millennium saw national sprinters Muhammad Hosni and Hamkah Afik at odds with the SA over financial and training support. The dispute eventually saw Hosni retire from the sport.

In 2004, Singapore's fastest man U.K. Shyam split from the SA after both parties failed to resolve their differences concerning allowances and grants. According to Shyam, he was still owed two months of allowance.

The organisation refuted his claims and attributed the delay to the sprinter's failure to submit training reports on time.

All three sprinters voiced displeasure at the SA's failure to understand their grievances.

4. Walk-out by naturalised athletes

Zhang Guirong was the only one of the walkout trio who returned for the 2007 SEA Games. The China-born 39-year-old is now a six-time Games shot put champion and has qualified for August's Kuala Lumpur Games. PHOTO: SOC/REUTERS

In 2007, China-born throwers Zhang Guirong (shot put), Dong Enxin(shot put) and Du Xianhui (discus), who were recruited under the Foreign Sports Talent (FST) scheme went AWOL just months before the SEA Games after disputes with the SA over pay and performance targets.

SA responded with a similar statement it issued in the 2004 UK Shyam incident, citing disparity in training reports.

Only Zhang returned for the Games and won Singapore's only track and field gold at the competition with a personal best, qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the process.

Then president Loh branded the FST in athletics a failure.

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