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SEA Games marathon champ Soh lodges protest with sports authorities over gold-medal winnings

SINGAPORE – Already under fire for a poor showing at the recent Kuala Lumpur (KL) SEA Games, Singapore Athletics (SA) was once again thrust into the spotlight on Saturday (Sept 16) after a protest lodged by men’s marathon champion Soh Rui Yong.

SEA Games marathon champ Soh lodges protest with sports authorities over gold-medal winnings

Soh Rui Yong holding the Singapore flag and wearing the singlet that he had cut holes in for ventilation after winning the men's marathon at the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur. TODAY file photo

SINGAPORE – Already under fire for a poor showing at the recent Kuala Lumpur (KL) SEA Games, Singapore Athletics (SA) was once again thrust into the spotlight on Saturday (Sept 16) after a protest lodged by men’s marathon champion Soh Rui Yong.

Soh, who successfully defended his title in KL last month, has sent a protest letter via email to the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) and Singapore Sports Institute (SSI) expressing his unhappiness that 20 per cent of his winnings from the SNOC Multi-Million Dollar Awards Programme (MAP) will be given to SA.

The SNOC states that it is compulsory for recipients of the MAP to give 20 per cent of their award money from the SEA, Asian and Olympics Games to their national sports associations (NSAs) for training and development.

With the monetary rewards for a SEA Games gold pegged at S$10,000, Soh and high jumper Michelle Sng will have to contribute S$2,000 each to SA. Silver and bronze medallists at the regional Games do not get any money.

Soh, however, is unhappy about the rule, citing the infighting at the association, poor management, and lack of support for athletes as reasons for his reluctance to contribute a portion of his winnings to SA.

“I have decided to lodge a protest because I believe that the 20 per cent of gold medal prize money that every athlete requires to give back to the NSA should not be taken for granted,” he told TODAY.

“Common sense dictates that this 20 per cent is meant as a gesture of goodwill to the NSA for helping the athlete achieve the success at the SEA Games, while also acting as a future investment in development.”

Ahead of his marathon race at Putra Jaya, Soh alleged that SA technical director Volker Herrmann had shouted at him for cutting holes in his race singlet. Soh explained later that it was meant to provide more ventilation during his race.

Sprinter Shanti Pereira, the defending 200m gold medallist who won a bronze in KL, also said after her 200m race that her coach’s dispute with Hermann before the Games had affected her. Ahead of the Games, Pereira’s coach, Margaret Oh and Herrmann had disagreed over the location of the centralised training camp, with the association then threatening to boot Pereira out of the women’s 4x100m relay team.

Other athletes such as pole vaulter Rachel Yang and sprinter Dipna Lim-Prasad – who won two silver medals in the 400m and 400m hurdles and broke Chee Swee Lee’s 43-year-old national record in the 400m – also ran into issues with the association. According to The Straits Times, Lim-Prasad had lodged a complaint this week with SA against Herrmann for undermining and publicly criticising her coach Luis Cunha during the season.

Soh added: “For the 2017 SEA Games, SA has not only failed to adequately help our athletes, but they have also hindered the performance of several athletes with continued infighting, turmoil, and poor administration.

“Volker shouting for me to be taken off the team for cutting holes in my singlet to deal with the heat and humidity of Malaysia was a great example. His clash with Margaret disrupting and negatively impacting Shanti was another example. Other examples include Dipna and Rachel Yang’s issues.”

In his email, Soh suggested that the 20 per cent of the winnings be given back to the athletes, or donated to a charity of their choice, rather than the association. He said: “The lack of concrete development plans for the future also cast serious doubts over the future of the sport. As such, I believe that Singapore Athletics is undeserving of the S$2000 that SNOC takes out of my MAP award to give to them.”

Responding to queries from TODAY, a SNOC spokesperson said on Saturday: “The SNOC Multi-million Award Programme is an incentive initiative to reward medalists at the SEA, Commonwealth, Asian and Olympic Games.

“It is mandatory for recipients of the SNOC MAP to give 20 per cent of the awards to their NSAs for future training and development. This requirement is among the conditions agreed between the SNOC and our sponsors which we have to fulfill.”

SA president Ho Mun Cheong, however, said he has no objections to allowing Soh to keep the 20 per cent due to the association. “To me, he deserves the money because he went overseas for training,” said the athletics chief.

“As long as SSI, SNOC agree, I have no objections. This is across the board, if Michelle approaches the SSI and SNOC (as well), I have no objections.”

Singapore Athletics has come under fire from the fraternity – particularly the athletes and coaches – and the Government in recent months.

Earlier this year, infighting and politicking among SA’s executive committee saw the association calling for snap elections to elect a new management committee. The proposal was canned only after intervention by International Olympic Committee member Ng Ser Miang. The impasse between both camps led by Ho and vice-president (training and selection) Govindasamy Balasekaran has yet to be resolved.

Ahead of the Games, Herrmann’s dispute with Oh, and damning whatsapp group messages leaked to media which showed Balasekaran asking secretariat staff to collect evidence against Oh and other coaches, saw the SNOC and Sport Singapore stepping in to set up a committee to take over the management of its SEA Games squad.

Following a poor showing at the Games, where Team Singapore’s athletes won just two out of 45 gold on offer - the national sports association was also criticised by Sport Singapore, with its chief executive officer Lim Teck Yin and SSI chief Toh Boon Yi calling for the association to get its act together, and to “go back to the drawing board.”

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