Harmony the key word for new athletics president, says Godfrey Robert
New athletics president must set the tone for officials to work in harmony
New president, old problems.
Judging by current vitriolic rhetoric, said mostly in private, by the two camps fighting for control of Singapore Athletics, I feel that the sport is on track for a gloomy scenario.
Whoever wins the tight contest for president, between Edmond Pereira and Ho Mun Cheong, at the association's annual general meeting on Monday can expect a rough ride.
Much of the blame would fall on the voting system. For, once the leadership battle is settled, the 21 affiliates will have to then vote in individual management committee members.
Therein lies the problem, as a mixed bag is anticipated, and among them will be obstinate officials who could ruffle feathers.
And because of them the in-fighting, as claimed by outgoing president Tang Weng Fei, that plagued past management committees could continue.
Lawyer Pereira, 66, and engineer Ho, 68, are both former sprinters, but they are as different as chalk and cheese.
The strong-willed Pereira is in the mould of former president Loh Lin Kok, also a lawyer, who had run the association with a firm, no-nonsense approach.
Ho is crafted in the personality of immediate former president Tang, with a niceness bordering on being a gentleman.
Both Pereira, head of TeamAthletics, and Ho, leading Team Achievers, have submitted line-ups that are impressive - many officials have sound knowledge and loads of experience in sports administration.
And both manifestos are littered with promises, pledges, proposals and plans to take Singapore Athletics to a new high.
But the tone will have to be set by the man who matters most - the president.
I have known local athletics presidents of the past.
Abdul Rahim Ishak, who served from 1966 to 1975, had a leadership style that suited that pioneering period - that of finding the right people to serve the sport.
AW Kirby, who succeeded him and served until 1981, was a marketing man who suited those times when national sports associations were self-funding.
As general manager of Rothmans of Pall Mall, he was in a perfect position to raise funds until the time when cigarette advertising was banned.
Under the two presidents, athletics thrived, thanks also to national coaches Tan Eng Yoon, Patrick Zehnder, Maurice Nicholas and Tan Kim Seng, who adopted professional training methods.
Also, the club scene was active, and athletes, irrespective of which club they belonged to, displayed a sense of togetherness on and off the track.
Then, there was a glut of athletes fighting for national places, and choosing a relay team for the selectors was a delight, as there were many runners vying for limited spots.
And because of the stiff competition at home, national records fell like ninepins within days and months.
The irony is that some of those records are still in place. A recent report in this paper highlighted Chee Swee Lee's women's 400 metres record of 55.08sec, clocked en route to the gold medal at the 1974 Asian Games in Teheran, that is still intact.
When Loh took over as athletics president in 1981, he faced many barriers in his quest to resurrect the sport to its heyday of the Sixties and Seventies.
Among them, Singapore's focus on education at a time when professionalism was making inroads into sport.
Also, the rise of the regional challenge in the form of countries like Vietnam and the Philippines at the SEA Games, and China, South Korea and the Middle Eastern countries on the Asian Games stage, made it harder for our athletes to win medals.
Loh ruled with a firm hand, but he also had a soft side, easily noticed by his team of volunteer officials, including Nicholas (as vice-president), who had camaraderie - often mixing work with pleasure.
The picture wasn't always rosy for Loh, who also had his detractors, and squabbles were a feature of his presidency. But deserving athletes were always given their due, be it overseas training or competitions.
Loh passed the baton to Tang in 2010, and just recently the latter said he would not run for the post, complaining of disunity within his organisation and also reports of management committee officials showing no respect for his position.
So, in this period of turmoil, unlike in the times of Rahim Ishak and Kirby, what should the incoming president bring to the sport?
He has to be tough, especially if his slate of candidates do not all make it to their respective management positions.
In that context, I was impressed by what Pereira, a former district judge, said last Friday when he presented his team.
He told this paper: "I believe we can do a job, but it can be done only if I have the right people alongside me.
"If you come in for ego and glory, then this is not the place for you.
"The sport will still move forward, because they will have to follow my pace as a leader.
"...I have different ways of dealing with issues (compared to Tang). Even if it's only myself who gets elected, then I will have to get the committee to agree (to plans), and I will set the tone."
The new president will also have to be on top of situations, which means he has to sacrifice time and sometimes money.
I have known the affable Ho for more than 40 years now. As a runner, he spoke little, mostly letting his feet do the talking with many impressive 400m runs.
So, when he spoke of a consensual approach to plans and proposals, I wasn't surprised.
This approach can work only if everyone's thinking falls in tandem with that of the president. If not, his convincing powers will be put to the test.
But the usually calm Ho fired a salvo, in his interview with this paper on Wednesday, when he said: "(Pereira) states that he has the mandate from past presidents (Loh and Tang).
"He fails to recognise that his mandate should come from the affiliates, not presidents or past presidents... who do not carry votes."
Such acrimony before AGMs is to be expected.
But let's bear in mind what our sprinting legend C. Kunalan (the outgoing vice-president and a member of Pereira's team) stated in his recent appeal to affiliates.
Kunalan said: "Something went wrong at the last elections. At the start of the elections, our adviser told the House to 'elect those who can work'.
"He should have said 'elect those who can work together'."
So, for athletics' sake, whoever is elected must rise above petty politics and camp allegiance and work with the incoming team.
Good sense must prevail, or else the sport and its protagonists would be the real victims.