To stop the rot, athletics has to start from the top
Singapore Athletics' warring parties must iron out differences or make way for another team
Much has been said recently of marathoner Soh Rui Yong and his reluctance to give part of his Multi-Million Dollar Award Programme (MAP) prize money to Singapore Athletics (SA).
The parameters are well defined: 20 per cent, or $2,000, of his $10,000 reward for winning the SEA Games gold medal will go towards his national sports association (NSA) for "future training and development".
But the athlete is disputing the contribution, alleging that SA has done little or nothing in his pursuit for gold this year, with the Singapore National Olympic Council's (SNOC) Athletes Commission offering to mediate the issue.
While the attention has been on the money and what to do with it, the crux of the issue is this - the relationship between the athlete and the NSA is so strained that the former does not and cannot trust the latter to perform its tasks well.
Soh himself acknowledged as much in a previous interview with The New Paper, where he said: "This is not about the $2,000... I am fighting for a better SA and a better ecosystem that supports athletes.
"At the moment, many athletes simply get frustrated and leave the sport."
He is not the only national track and field athlete to voice his displeasure at SA in recent times, with pole vaulter Rachel Yang and hurdler Dipna Lim-Prasad having run-ins with SA secretariat staff before and during the SEA Games.
Also, sprint queen Shanti Pereira acknowledged that her issues with SA in the lead-up to the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur contributed to her failure to retain her 200m crown in the Malaysian capital last month.
The 21-year-old and her coach Margaret Oh were involved in a disagreement with technical director Volker Hermann over the athlete's training plans before the Games, which were eventually resolved.
You can argue internally but, once the decision is made, everyone has to work in the same direction. Singapore Athletics’ vice-patron Kesavan Soon
The disharmony in the sport goes all the way to the top, with warring factions in the SA executive committee bringing their fight into the open, culminating in a failed Extra-Ordinary General Meeting to select new leaders in May.
The sniping between the warring parties continued even after Singapore sport's elder statesman Ng Ser Miang attempted to broker peace, and culminated in the SNOC and Sport Singapore forming a joint committee to manage its SEA Games-bound athletes.
While the sport has faced tumultuous times and internal politics in the past, 2017 has to go down as the most fractious year for track and field yet.
And it is time to stop the rot.
With the SEA Games - athletics' main event of the year - out of the way, it is high time for the sport's warring leaders to sit down and have a frank discussion, says SA's vice-patron Kesavan Soon.
"As elected officials, they must work together for the betterment of the sport. You can argue internally but, once the decision is made, everyone has to work in the same direction," Soon told TNP.
"All of them need to sit down and decide what to do next. If they can't work together, then it's better to have the AGM (to select new leaders) soon instead of having them argue openly and affecting the athletes."
In short, iron out your differences, or get out.
Soon, a former national sprinter, also advised athletes to focus on training and competition, instead of getting involved in politics, while pointing out that a lack of continuity among the secretariat staff may have led to the sport's current predicament.
Soon, 78, said: "There must be people in the secretariat who have experience in doing what they do, but they keep on changing and there's no continuity. An experienced secretariat staff will know what to do and (will be) doing it even if the management changes."
Former president Tang Weng Fei has been bandied around as a possible solution to SA's mess, and he has said that he'd consider returning to contest for the SA presidency next year.
However, he reiterated an important point when contacted by TNP: "If I were to come back, I'd want a clean-slate team with new faces. I want to be productive."
In the short term, the only way forward is mediation between the SA secretariat and its stakeholders - athletes, officials, coaches et al.
Putting aside all egos and emotions, with or without third-party mediation, all parties must sit at the table to maturely discuss the issues at hand, be it the usage of MAP contributions, or ways to improve the support services for our elite athletes.
It is high time that all parties stop talking at each other, and start talking with one another.