Singapore Athletics cancels Taiwan training plans as SportSG gives it an earful

Singapore Athletics cancels Taiwan training plans as SportSG gives it an earful
Shanti Pereira at the 2015 SEA Games. TODAY file photo
SportSG chief Lim urges SA officials to put needs of athletes and coaches above all else for SEA Games
Published: 10:20 PM, June 19, 2017
Updated: 12:15 PM, June 20, 2017

SINGAPORE — Singapore Athletics’ (SA) centralised training camp for the upcoming SEA Games, which has been a source of contention and division within the local athletics fraternity will no longer be held in Taiwan as originally planned.

TODAY understands that the majority of SA’s 26-member management committee (MC) voted on Monday (June 19) against having the camp in Taiwan.

Instead, it will now be in either Singapore or Malaysia — where the SEA Games will be staged.

The decision to change the venue came on the same day that the national sports association was chided by Sport Singapore (SportSG) for the recent saga surrounding national sprinter Shanti Pereira and her involvement in the women’s 4x100m relay team at the Games.

From public accusations and counter-accusations between members of SA’s MC, to a leaked screenshot of a private WhatsApp group chat message, the saga dominated the headlines this past week as the sport was thrown into turmoil.

On Monday evening, SportSG chief executive officer Lim Teck Yin expressed his disappointment at the state of affairs in local athletics by issuing a sternly-worded statement to the media.

Reminding the parties involved in the saga to prioritise the needs of country and athletes over all other issues, especially with the SEA Games just around the corner in August, Lim said: “The interests of the country and athlete should be placed above all else.

“It is therefore disappointing that continuing distrust and discord in the team leading Singapore Athletics is hurting the sport. We urge all parties to come to the table, put aside their personal differences and work professionally towards the common objective of preparing our athletes to be in the best position to perform at the upcoming SEA Games.”

TODAY reported last week that SA technical director Volker Hermann had warned Pereira that she would be excluded from the women’s 4x100m relay team for the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur if she did not participate in next month’s training camp, which was initially scheduled to be held in Taiwan.

However, Pereira’s coach Margaret Oh, as well as Ho, were opposed to going to Taiwan. Oh’s main concern was that Taiwan’s climate was too different from that of Malaysia.

Now that the camp will not be in Taiwan, Oh told TODAY that she would allow reigning SEA Games 200m champion Pereira to take part in centralised training. She added that she would work with Hermann for the SEA Games despite their differences.

“We have agreed to co-operate to help Shanti, who has been caused a lot of stress due to the recent events,” said the veteran coach.

“Shanti’s aim is not only to retain her gold in the 200m in KL, but to also help the relay team to victory. So in order to help her achieve this, I will accept her going for the training camp.

“I was never against the concept of centralised training. I just didn’t think the location was right. For now, we should put all this to rest and focus our efforts on the athletes.”

SA president Ho Mun Cheong also called for unity within the fraternity, which has been further divided following the leak of a WhatsApp group message that SA vice-president (training and selection) Govindasamy Balasekaran had sent to the SA’s secretariat staff that was subsequently circulated on social media.

Balasekaran’s messages read: “Just get good evidence so we can give it back to P (president Ho Mun Cheong). And force him to get disciplinary action on Margaret and David (Yeo, pole vaulter Rachel Yang’s coach). He will then shut up as they are his favourites.

“...Margaret needs to get into trouble so we can take action on her.”

Both Yeo and Yang were recently involved in a dispute with Hermann over the participation of youth pole vaulter Cherlin Sia at last week’s Thailand Open. Yeo and Yang had asked for Cherlin to take part in the competition so as to try and qualify for the SEA Games, but Hermann turned their request down.

When contacted by TODAY, Balasekaran, an associate professor at the National Institute of Education, reiterated what he had said on Sunday (June 18) - that the group chat messages had been “illegally obtained” and “taken out of context”.

He also blamed Ho for it, saying that Ho had disseminated the message to SA’s management committee (MC) on Sunday.

Balasekaran also expressed disappointment that the Taiwan training plans have fallen through. "The reason why we were planning to go to Taiwan is because of the cold climate," he said.

"The athletes will peak, they'll come back and they will acclimatise. In fact, rival countries are going to Hong Kong and Taiwan. Now they're stopping it.

"This Taiwan trip was well-planned by Volker for quite some time. Now, we have to do it in Singapore. The MC was of course always going to support Ho after all these things... 

"We all want to work together, we're working together, but who is stopping all this? The president."

Ho told TODAY that he hoped that all parties would now put the ugly epsiode behind them and focus on preparing for the SEA Games.

The 68-year-old said: “I fully agree that we should put our differences aside and work towards the coming SEA Games. We have to be athlete-centric and not put the coaches and athletes in trouble.

“It’s better to put our energy to ensure that the coaches and athletes get full attention to focus on the SEA Games rather than think of how to get them into trouble. That is a selfish attitude, which only serves one’s own interest and not the interest of the coaches and athletes.”