Sports

GET BACK TO ATHLETICS, SAA

For some months now, Singapore track and field has had a spring in its step as the country's athletes displayed record-breaking form.

Sprinters Dipna Lim-Prasad and Shanti Pereira and pole-vaulter Sean Lim have all set new national marks.

Dipna is 22 and Shanti 17, while Lim is 20.

Their promise, along with the strength of the Republic's male sprinters, offers hope of medal success in what is arguably the biggest athletics event, alongside men's football, at next year's South-east Asia (SEA) Games, which Singapore will host in June.

Over the last week, though, events off the track have scarred the Singapore Athletic Association (SAA).

The suspension of SAA vice-presidents Loh Chan Pew and Steven Lee has taken a bitter turn.

Both will appeal, as they have every right to do, but Loh's fiery rebuttal in the meantime, I would think, threatens to take the focus away from what should be a relentless pursuit of athlete improvement.

When a sport that has for so long struggled to haul itself out of the doldrums finally begins to show signs of life, that is what is required from the entire SAA machinery.

Instead, the SAA management has become embroiled in an unseemly, and hardly healthy, dispute with two of its own officials.

It is an issue SAA president Tang Weng Fei has to deal with quickly to return the focus to our athletes and prepare them to rouse a nation in a glittering new National Stadium next year.

He has formed a three-man disciplinary committee and they are expected to deliver their judgment by the end of next week.

Obviously, no stone must be left unturned to find out the facts and reach a fair conclusion.

Loh and Lee must be heard. But, once the committee reaches a verdict, then Tang, a successful oil trader and businessman, has to act decisively.

COOL AND CALM

I know the former national hurdler and he is cool and calm.

He took over the reigns of the SAA in 2010 - his second stint as track and field chief - and, slowly, the sport is starting to gain ground.

This controversy cannot get in the way of the upward trend, because there is a long way to go yet.

Already, the SAA is in the midst of vetting names for a head coach and that decision must come soon.

This July's Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games in September will give our athletes exposure in a world-class setting as they build towards the 2015 SEA Games.

Shanti is the national record-holder in the women's 100m and 200m, and narrowly missed out on a bronze in both events - finishing fourth - at last year's SEA Games in Myanmar.

At just 17, she has a bright future.

Dipna, 22, holds the national marks in the 100m hurdles and 400m hurdles, an event which she finished third at the Myanmar Games.

Lim, 20, has broken the national record in the men's pole vault twice in four months.

Long jumper Nurul Jannah and shot putter Wong Kai Yuen are gunning for medals at next year's Games.

The men's 4x100m team and the female relay runners have a shot at glory.

With 2011 silver-medallist Gary Yeo and last year's bronze-medallist Amiruddin Jamal eyeing bigger success in front of their own fans in the men's 100m, and a dangerous Calvin Kang also in the mix, there could be an exciting finish in the most coveted individual contest at Singapore's SEA Games.

Our track and field athletes returned with a haul of two gold, three silver and two bronze medals in 2011, and two gold, three silver and three bronze last year.

Tang has targeted six gold medals in track and field next year.

For the next 12 months or so, his quality of leadership will be crucial if the SAA is to at least come close to making it.

Tang needs to ensure the angry dispute with Loh and Lee is resolved fairly, and quickly.