Table tennis: STTA deputy president Poh in the running to be association's chief

One of Poh Li San's long-term plans is to build a strong and sustainable youth development pipeline. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

SINGAPORE - She is a sporty boss who used to represent her schools in badminton, javelin, discus and cross-country competitions. 

The Changi Airport Group senior vice-president is also a busy bee, as she also serves as a Member of Parliament for Sembawang GRC.

On Friday (Aug 19), Poh Li San confirmed she wants another hat and succeed Ellen Lee as Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) president, with the duo stating they do not know of any challengers.

The biennial STTA elections will take place at its closed-door annual general meeting on Aug 29, and nominations close on Monday.

Poh, who still runs, swims and does triathlons, said: “Sports have always been a part of my life. I have been serving as Ellen’s deputy for the past two years and in recent months, I was particularly moved by how close the team worked together, and also their passion, determination and fighting spirit.

“While I don’t do competitive sports any more... I can help younger players who are in that competitive sports space to really unleash their full potential.”

The 46-year-old added that her short-term goals would be to help the players prepare well for next year’s SEA Games and Asian Games, and qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics. 

To this end, she announced the STTA has already secured playing stints for Zeng Jian in France and Koen Pang in Germany, while discussions are ongoing for Clarence Chew and Goi Rui Xuan to train and compete in foreign leagues.

Poh’s long-term plans are to build a strong and sustainable youth development pipeline, an ecosystem with a bigger emphasis on sports science to optimise athlete performance and recovery, and also corporate support to provide career options for paddlers during and after their playing careers.

As Lee’s deputy, she has had a front-row view of the challenges. Lee was elected STTA president in 2014, when Singapore table tennis was on a high after a successful foreign talent recruitment yielded three Olympic medals.

Since then, the Olympic medals have dried up and the team’s Commonwealth and regional dominance has waned with the gradual phasing out and retirement of the China-born players.

At the recent Commonwealth Games, the paddlers overcame old and new threats from Australia, England, India and Wales to claim three gold, two silver and two bronze medals, improving their 2018 tally by one bronze.

But with star player Feng Tianwei at the twilight of her career, Lin Ye injured, and no successor of a world-class ilk yet, the STTA has a fight on its hands to maintain its admirable track record of delivering gold medals at major Games.

STTA deputy president Poh Li San (left) is in the running to take over from Ellen Lee as STTA president. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

As the nation’s second female military helicopter pilot, Poh felt she is mentally equipped for the new challenge. 

Believing there is potential within the STTA stable to “do reasonably well” at the highest levels, she said: “My experience taught me to take training very seriously. When you are called to do your mission, you have to give your all with focus and clarity. You can’t go out there and turn back halfway and say you are not prepared, and it’s the same for competitive sports.

“If you have failures, you have to deal with it and you must have a very strong mind to be able to turn around situations and continue to do well.”

Lee, a 65-year-old lawyer, gave Poh her stamp of approval.

She said: “My advice to her would be to stay calm, seek advice when necessary, and come to your own decision... If she is elected as president, I believe STTA will be in good hands with her at the helm. I have no doubt she is prepared.”

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