Pritam asks SNOC to adopt ‘forgiving attitude’ on Soh Rui Yong after Asian Games exclusion

Pritam asks SNOC to adopt ‘forgiving attitude’ on Soh Rui Yong after Asian Games exclusion

Pritam asks SNOC to adopt ‘forgiving attitude’ on Soh Rui Yong after Asian Games exclusion


“One cannot help but feel that things have turned personal," says the Leader of the Opposition.


SINGAPORE: Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh on Thursday (Jul 5) asked the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) to take a “more forgiving attitude” towards Soh Rui Yong, in the wake of the top distance runner's non-selection for the upcoming Asian Games.


Not letting Soh represent Singapore at the multi-sport event in Hangzhou, China will “seriously curtail his ability to run and medal" for the country ever again, Mr Singh claimed.


The Workers' Party chief and Aljunied Member of Parliament was speaking in parliament during a motion tabled on sporting success and supporting athletes. As Soh is an Aljunied resident, it was “not out of order” for his MP to raise the matter in the House, said Mr Singh.


Soh was excluded from SNOC’s final list of successful appeals released last month, ahead of the Asian Games from September to October.


SNOC's appeals committee found that Soh “failed to honour commitments” made to the council and that he “continued to make disparaging and derisive remarks about others in the public domain”, a spokesman said.


He was previously left out of Team Singapore at the 2019 and 2022 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games for disciplinary reasons. 


But he returned to the national fold at this year’s SEA Games in Cambodia, winning a silver medal in the men's 10,000m race and setting a new national record in the process.



Soh’s Asiad exclusion took up much of the five-hour debate during the motion, which was tabled by WP.


Mr Singh described SNOC's “blanket non-selection" as forcing Soh's  sporting career into "limbo" for an unknown period, unlike fixed term suspensions for violent conduct or criminal offences.


Citing an article by online website Rice Media published in June, Mr Singh noted that Soh had responded to SNOC’s objections to his online comments, by removing the posts.


This did not placate SNOC and he was still not selected to represent Singapore, Mr Singh added. 


The Leader of the Opposition stressed that it was not unreasonable for SNOC to expect Singapore’s sportsmen and women to be disciplined, and that the appeals committee must have the authority to bar athletes after a disciplinary panel hearing “consistent with the principles of national justice”. 


Mr Singh highlighted the council's "track record” of forgiving athletes who had fallen short of being examples, and eventually allowing them to compete for Singapore. 


He cited, without naming the individuals, a silat exponent allowed to represent Singapore at the SEA Games despite a drink driving conviction, and a swimmer who won a silver medal at the Games after being disciplined for consuming controlled drugs and having his scholarship suspended for one month.


“Both these athletes were involved in criminal offences. Soh Rui Yong has not been. So why is SNOC's attitude towards Rui Yong different?” asked Mr Singh.


“The core of the schism between SNOC and Rui Yong appears to be a spat that arose when Rui Yong challenged the SNOC's nomination of another athlete for an international sportsman award.”


That athlete was Ashley Liew, who mounted a defamation suit against Soh. The latter lost his case and was ordered to pay damages of S$180,000. 


There is a “widespread belief” that Soh’s latest exclusion is “a carryover of that original spat”, said Mr Singh in parliament on Thursday. 


“One cannot help but feel that things have turned personal with SNOC taking a far stronger stand against Rui Yong compared to other athletes who have committed transgressions, as if to teach him a lesson for his outspokenness.”


The opposition Progress Singapore Party's Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai also spoke in support of WP’s motion and Soh.


Mr Leong described him as a “talented and record-setting runner" who cannot represent Singapore at the Asian Games because he “supposedly" has not met SNOC’s selection criteria.


“We think it is a very serious matter to disqualify an athlete for non-performance reasons. We call for greater objectivity and transparency in the selection criteria for athletes to represent Singapore at major sporting events,” he continued. 


“More clarity is needed around the process by which an athlete is disqualified from representing Singapore.” 


SNOC’s selection criteria is published on its website.


It includes a section from the Olympic Charter, stating that "selection shall be based not only on the sports performance of an athlete, but also on his ability to serve as an example to the sporting youth of his country”.


SNOC also considers the qualities of athletes such as attitude, behaviour, general conduct and character among others.


Mr Singh acknowledged that SNOC had done much to promote Singapore sports, by bringing sponsors on board and raising the esteem of sports in the minds and hearts of Singaporeans and many parents in a “very big way”.


“But in the eyes of many Singaporeans on the Soh Rui Yong matter, SNOC as the highest sporting body in Singapore comes out looking petty even as many also believe that Rui Yong needs to learn from the past and draw a line and focus on his sporting career,” said the WP secretary-general.


Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Mark Chay, who is also a member of SNOC's marketing committee, clarified that the council's appeals committee was satisfied with the Singapore Athletics Association’s nomination of Soh to represent Singapore at this year's SEA Games.


Soh had also signed a letter of undertaking to abide by the association's code of conduct. 


But upon returning from the SEA Games, he made disparaging comments about SNOC and his teammates on social media, said Mr Chay. 


He said Soh was an athlete who “has been given a second chance and knowingly breaks the undertaking and commitment”. 


“I think if Rui Yong is truly sorry, and he really wants to move forward, and wants to be a great ambassador for sports, the door is probably not closed,” said Mr Chay, in response to Mr Singh asking if he would advocate for more dispute resolution mechanisms. 



Mr Singh also called on the government to intervene. 


“I hope the ministry officials, if not the minister in charge of sports, can intercede to prevent parties from reaching a point where Singapore sport cuts off its nose to spite its own face,” he added.


"Politicians should not be directly involved in sports, if only to facilitate raising the profile of Singapore sports and athletes; generating support from corporates, society and parents; and to bring wisdom into disputes like those involving Soh and SNOC." 


Mr Singh did not say who he was referring to.


“Our sports administrators can afford to take an elevated approach as they have done in the past and be more big-hearted, especially when you consider their collective seniority and contributions to Singapore sports,” he said.


The Leader of the Opposition called for a “more enlightened and mature approach” from all involved.


“(SNOC) does not just hold all the cards, but it's clearly the party in which the power relationship between athlete and state representation resides can make a massive difference,” Mr Singh added. 


He expressed hope that the matter could be resolved amicably, with better engagement by perhaps a mediator from the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.


“Our sporting ecosystem is strengthened when we focus on sporting values, sportsmanship and bringing glory to Singapore,” said Mr Singh.


Min, A. H. (2023, July 6). Pritam asks SNOC to adopt ‘forgiving attitude’ on Soh Rui Yong after Asian Games exclusion. CNA.

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