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Marathoner Soh Rui Yong offers to drop defamation suit against Singapore Athletics ex-director midway through trial

SINGAPORE — National marathoner Soh Rui Yong has offered to withdraw his lawsuit against Syed Abdul Malik Aljunied, after the former executive director of Singapore Athletics (SA) testified last week that the allegedly defamatory statements he made against Soh were not “in good taste”.

Marathoner Soh Rui Yong offers to drop defamation suit against Singapore Athletics ex-director midway through trial

National marathoner Soh Rui Yong (right) had sued Syed Abdul Malik Aljunied (left), former executive director of Singapore Athletics, for comments he made on his personal Facebook account in 2019.

  • National athlete Soh Rui Yong had sued Malik Aljunied, the former director of Singapore Athletics, for defamation
  • On Jan 17, Soh’s lawyer said that Soh is offering to withdraw the lawsuit
  • Soh said that continuing it is not “necessary or good” for Singapore sports
  • He also does not want prominent figures in the sporting fraternity to be cross-examined
  • Malik’s lawyer said he is unlikely to accept it, with a former Singapore Athletics president being questioned

SINGAPORE — National marathoner Soh Rui Yong has offered to withdraw his lawsuit against Syed Abdul Malik Aljunied, after the former executive director of Singapore Athletics (SA) testified last week that the allegedly defamatory statements he made against Soh were not “in good taste”.

Soh made the offer through his lawyer Gerard Quek on Monday (Jan 17), the fifth day of the ongoing civil trial in the State Courts.

The proposal, which stands until the end of the day, was not immediately accepted or rejected by Malik. His lawyer Mahmood Gaznavi told TODAY that he is unlikely to accept it.

The trial continued on Monday, with former SA president Tang Weng Fei taking the stand as a defence witness.

Soh, a two-time Southeast Asian (SEA) Games gold medallist, sued Malik for comments he made on his personal Facebook account in 2019 after Soh was rejected from Team Singapore for the 2019 SEA Games.

Malik had posted a photo of himself with two children. In the caption, he wrote that he hoped one of the children would take up the 400m hurdles sporting event, and added that they should be “careful” of the marathon as it could “end up messing up with your mind and heart”.

He also stated in a comment that he has observed this in only “one particular runner so far” and that marathons have “drained” this individual of “empathy, compassion, gratitude and the capability to love others”. He did not mention any names in his comment.

Soh’s lawyers said that the runner could only refer to Soh.

When the trial began last week, Malik took the stand and told the court that he removed the post and comment about 15 hours after he put it up. This was because a fellow SA management committee member told him that what he wrote was not in good taste.

During the trial last week, Malik also agreed with Soh’s lawyer that the words he had used painted a negative and unflattering picture of the athlete.

In Mr Gaznavi’s opening statement for the defence, the lawyer said that he would show how Soh breached the code of conduct for athletes by SA and the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC), how Malik had supported the athlete, and Soh’s behaviour in dealing with both associations and fellow marathoner Ashley Liew.

Liew was separately awarded S$180,000 in damages last year after winning his defamation suit against Soh. Soh is appealing against the decision.

‘FEELS VINDICATED’

On Monday, Mr Quek said that he had Soh’s instructions to make an offer to resolve the matter because he was “satisfied with the concessions that (Malik) stated on the stand on Friday, and he feels he has been, in his own way, vindicated”.

The lawyer added: “(Soh) believes his claim is strengthened now, but he also feels it is not necessary or good for sports, in particular the athletics fraternity, to have this matter continue further.

“He also does not wish to put prominent figures in Singapore sports through the unpleasant experience of cross-examination. He has much respect for them. Also, crucially, the offer will save the honourable court’s time.”

The terms of the offer include Soh discontinuing the suit within five working days of Malik accepting the offer, and both agreeing that no order should be made for the costs of discontinuing the suit.

When District Judge Lim Wee Ming sought Mr Gaznavi’s views, the lawyer said that there had been “written communication” on this and that they were ready to continue with the trial.

“(Soh) believes his claim is strengthened now, but he also feels it is not necessary or good for sports, in particular the athletics fraternity, to have this matter continue further."
Mr Gerard Quek, lawyer for marathoner Soh Rui Yong

Mr Tang — who was SA president from 2006 to 2008, 2010 to 2016 and 2018 to 2020 — then took the stand, where he was questioned by Mr Quek for a few hours.

When asked if he knew about infighting or mismanagement within SA around 2017, Mr Tang told the court that he knew there were problems in SA but not exactly what had happened. He had stepped down due to business commitments before being asked to return.

Mr Tang disagreed that SA’s failure to support Team Singapore athletes had a negative impact on their performance in the 2017 SEA Games, where the country won just two out of a possible 45 gold medals.

When Mr Quek probed him on whether it was fair to say several athletes, including Soh, had felt let down by SA during the Games, Mr Tang said that he could not comment on this as he was “not privy to any matters”.

In his written affidavit, Mr Tang said that he believed Soh had “behaved in an illogical manner” by giving several media interviews about SNOC, which he did not clear with SA.

Soh had also posted a photo of himself on social media wearing the attire of his personal sponsor during the 2019 Taiwan Open in May. However, Mr Tang conceded on the stand that he did not breach SNOC regulations by doing so.

Athletes are required to wear only approved attire under a “blackout” period, which bans them from promoting their personal sponsors on social media during specific major competitions.

Mr Tang added in his affidavit that Soh’s conduct in his dealings with both associations “has been unacceptable as it fell woefully short of the standards expected of a national sportsman”.

When Mr Quek asked him in court if a person is entitled to express his views if he truly believed in what he felt, Mr Tang responded: “In the case of Mr Soh, many times he has gone above the line.”

He added that Malik would “always fight” for Soh during SA management committee meetings, when they discussed what to do about Soh’s conduct.

“Malik said we should give him a second chance to change... To be honest, I like Soh because he is really a talented athlete… The word ‘counsel’ was used during the meeting. We were hopeful he would change, became a better athlete.”

Mr Quek then asked why Malik would “fight for him”, to which Mr Tang replied: “I don’t know. I really don’t know.”

Other prominent figures, including swimming icon and former SA vice-president Ang Peng Siong, are set to testify when the trial resumes at an undetermined date.

Related topics

court defamation Soh Rui Yong Singapore Athletics Malik Aljunied

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