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Criticism by high-performance chief a ‘wake-up call’ for Singapore athletics, says association

SINGAPORE — The scathing criticism of the athletics fraternity by Mr Richard Gordon, the head of high performance sport and athlete life at the Singapore Sports Institute, serves as a wake-up call.

Mr Tang Weng Fei (right), Singapore Athletic Association's chief, responds to the stinging criticism of the infighting among the athletics fraternity here from Mr Richard Gordon (left) of the Singapore Sports Institute.

Mr Tang Weng Fei (right), Singapore Athletic Association's chief, responds to the stinging criticism of the infighting among the athletics fraternity here from Mr Richard Gordon (left) of the Singapore Sports Institute.

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SINGAPORE — The scathing criticism of the athletics fraternity by Mr Richard Gordon, the head of high performance sport and athlete life at the Singapore Sports Institute, serves as a wake-up call.

This was the statement made by the chief of the Singapore Athletic Association on Thursday (Dec 12) when he acknowledged that there is “disunity in several factions” of the fraternity.

In an interview with the media on Wednesday to review Singapore’s performance at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in the Philippines, Mr Gordon said that the “lack of stable governance” within the athletics fraternity has cost its athletes.

He criticised the athletics fraternity for its “propensity for infighting”.

The Singapore Sports Institute which Mr Gordon works for comes under the umbrella of national sports governing body Sport Singapore (SportSG), and it supports and nurtures the country’s athletes through nutrition and other aids to boost their training and performance.

In response, Singapore Athletic Association's chief Tang Weng Fei said: “Richard’s remarks are factual. This is a wake-up call to all stakeholders of athletics in Singapore to stop all distractions other than promoting our beloved sport.” 

Mr Tang said that athletics needs a “paradigm shift, particularly with the mindsets of all stakeholders”. 

“Having still to come out fully from ‘stormy weathers’ which seemed to perpetuate in the sport, the new (management) committee saw initial promise in ‘seeing clear skies again’ until the onslaught of lawsuits and disunity in several factions of the fraternity, despite genuine endeavours to pull the fraternity together.”

He called on the fraternity to rally together, stop all distractions and target at least three gold medals at the 2025 SEA Games, which is due to take place in Thailand.

The next edition of the Games, in 2021, will be hosted in Vietnam while Cambodia will be 2023’s hosts.

Singapore’s athletics contingent failed to win a gold or silver at this year’s Games. It bagged three bronze medals — two courtesy of Shanti Pereira in the 100m and 200m finals, and one from Nur Izlyn Zaini in the 100m hurdles.

In the 2017 edition of the Games, the team won two gold medals — one from marathoner Soh Rui Yong and another from high jumper Michelle Sng, who finished fifth this year.

Soh’s nomination to compete in this edition of the Games was rejected by the Singapore National Olympic Council. He has been embroiled in a dispute over an “act of sportsmanship” purportedly shown by another marathoner, Ashley Liew, at the SEA Games men’s marathon final in 2015 in Singapore.

Liew said that he had slowed down to allow other runners in the event to catch up after they missed a U-turn and took the wrong path. The incident led to Liew winning the Pierre de Coubertin World Fair Play Trophy — a global prize for good sportsmanship — after being nominated by the SNOC. 

But Soh, who won the race, disputed Liew’s account of events, insisting that his team-mate did not slow down as he had claimed.

Since then, Soh has made at least four legal challenges alleging that he has been defamed, among other things, by Liew, Liew’s manager, the athletics association and its executive director Syed Abdul Malik Aljunied.

Mr Gordon, noting a decline in results from athletics over the past three SEA Games, said on Wednesday that efforts have been made to help the athletics association to stabilise.

“But they seem to have a propensity for infighting within the fraternity... what I am going to say is that you need to get your act together,” he said. 

“As a fraternity, you need to start working together, you need to start providing stable governance.

“Because you are providing nothing more than a distraction, which is taking your time, effort and energies away from what you should be doing, which is helping to support the athletes’ development and performances.”

Related topics

athletics athletes performance Sports Criticism infighting Tang Weng Fei Richard Gordon SEA Games 2019

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