This letter appeared in the online forum of The Straits Times:
Why SAA needs a change of leadership
(The Straits Times, Online Forum, 03 Jan 2010)
THE flak the Singapore Athletic Association (SAA) has been getting recently is well justified. I concur with the top brass of the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports that SAA needs to get its leadership in order.
To change the dull act, the key actors have to change.
Already, we have experienced a ‘lost generation’ of potential winners, due to SAA’s failure to meet its key objective – show visible improvement in the state of track and field in Singapore, which translates to results in local and overseas competitions that Singaporeans can be proud of.
However, in the past two decades, Singaporeans have had to hang their heads in shame at the sorry state of athletics.
Even a basic management task like submitting the annual plan – SAA could deliver only way past the deadline. The recent audit by the Singapore Sports Council showed many areas to be addressed urgently. The only way this will happen is with a change of leadership.
Otherwise, we will suffer another ‘lost generation’ in the new decade. More immediately, I fear the Youth Olympic Games will be another failure as far as athletics is concerned, based on the current trend.
I also thought I’d share with you guys something that was published in The Straits Times about 10 days ago. It captured very succinctly the controversies that the SAA has been mired in since 1982, when Loh Lin Koh first came on board as its president.
I’d recommend you read through the list (it makes for quite riveting reading) and then go through Robert Chua’s letter again, and decide for yourself whether it is time for a change of leadership in the SAA. Cheers.
Loh’s long reign clouded by controversy
(The Straits Times, 24 Dec 2009)
IN 26 years at the helm of the Singapore Athletic Association, lawyer Loh Lin Kok has been involved in numerous controversies. ST revisits his battles:1983
Loh installs a new policy for all national athletes to train under a select team of 12 coaches, sparking a series of protests.
Some 80 officials walk out on the Singapore Amateur Athletic Association’s official SEA Games dinner and dance over a dispute on seating arrangements.
A group of officials also boycott the Caltex Age Group Athletic Championships, challenging Loh to take disciplinary action.
Then national sprint champion Haron Mundir and fastest schoolgirl Prema Govindan refuse to join the SAAA’s training scheme, choosing to train with the Singapore Sports Council.
Loh threatens to throw Flash Sports Association president and SAAA presidency candidate, Edmond Pereira, out of the election hall after the latter challenged the legality of the SAAA election meeting.
He warns athletes who skip centralised training sessions: ‘We’ll hit you so hard, you’ll be sorry.’
Loh believes there is a lack of discipline in the SAAA. ‘I have to put the house in order. And if it means ruling with an iron hand, I’ll do it,’ he says.
The Registry of Societies warns the SAAA to comply with the existing Societies Act or face action.
Loh wants coach Patrick Zehnder disciplined for trying to get runner S.Pandian to train in America without the SAAA’s approval.
The president orders athletes to join SAAA-affiliated clubs or face a ban.
President of the Singapore National Olympic Council, the late Mr E.W. Barker, tells Loh to ‘get his house in order’ at a Sportsman of the Year dinner. Loh replies: ‘You are welcome to examine my house.’
The SAAA rejects sprinter Paul Su’s compensation claim for injuries he suffered during training. Loh alleges that Su was covered by his employers and he was trying to ‘make the SAAA out of pocket’.
Loh asks SAAA head coach John Whitson, who was also in charge of the Kallang Athletics Training Centre, to step down as the SSC did not consult him on plans for the centre.
Loh hits out at the SSC for inviting national athletes to train at the centre, claiming it was ‘inciting active rebellion’.
He slams the SSC for imposing conditions barring the SAAA juniors from using the facilities at the National Stadium.
The SAAA cautions that athletes who ran in non-sanctioned meets, such as the SSC’s Brooks 10km Run, will be banned from SAAA meets.
The SAAA’s vice-president Victor Khoo quits and urges the SSC and SAAA to work together.
Loh complains that the SSC maintained-National Stadium is in bad shape and a ‘disgrace’. He then claims the SSC has banned national athletes from using the stadium. SSC chairman Dr Tan Eng Liang disputes this.
The SAAA suspends sprinter Haron Mundir for 18 months for cutting short a training stint in Japan, ruling him out of the 1989 SEA Games.
After an appeal, a High Court grants Haron an injunction against the ban. Mr Barker orders Haron to run in the SEA Games.
Haron is not selected for the 4x100m relay team for the SEA Games. SAAA does not pay him for the 100m silver and 200m bronze he won, with Loh labelling his performances as ‘nothing to be proud of’.
SAAA gives local winners of Singapore Marathon their prize money in monthly instalments. Loh says: ‘I don’t want athletes to compete in marathons hoping to win prize-money like striking a lottery.’
Loh accuses four athletes – Xie Yuru, Mona Kunalan, Toh So Liang, P.Parameswaran – of using the press to air their grievances.
Xie is dropped from a junior meet squad for her ‘negative attitude’. He brands national champion pole vaulter Ng Kean Mun a ‘rotten apple’ for showing attitude at the Asian Games in Beijing.
Haron remains suspended after 18 months, with Loh saying the ban only begins once the sprinter’s appeal is heard.
The High Court rules in favour of Haron, who was represented by Pereira.
The SAAA is ordered to pay Haron’s costs of approximately $90,000 in addition to legal fees of $53,743.
Shot-putter James Wong is blasted by Loh for failing to claim gold in discus and hammer at the Brunei SEA Games.
Sprinter Hamkah Afik quits over allowances. Loh slams him for not repaying the money invested in him with results.
Before the SAAA elections, SSC executive director Kwan Yue Yeong declares he cannot work with Loh. But Loh still wins.
Recently retired runners Muhamad Hosni and Hamkah Afik voice displeasure with Loh’s methods.
SAAA orders national 100m record-holder U.K. Shyam to run in the SEA Games or lose a $90,000 grant. Shyam wants to skip the Vietnam Games because his training was interrupted by exams.
Shyam splits from the national team. He says: ‘I think I spent more time fighting against the system than actually running faster and faster.’
Businessman and former national hurdler Tang Weng Fei replaces Loh as SAA president. Loh becomes a special adviser to the SAA.
Tang steps down. Loh defeats presidential rival Steven Lee in an election.
The SAA drops medal prospects and China-born Du Xianhui (discus) and Zhang Guirong (shot put) two months before the Asian Games after a series of clashes.
Zhang and Du are invited for talks but leave for China again without the SAA’s permission. Loh cuts Du’s financial assistance grant. Zhang returns to the SEA Games team but another thrower, Dong Enxin, goes Awol.
Athletes are upset with the SAA’s co-payment scheme in which they must co-pay up to 30 per cent of expenses for overseas preparatory meets.
The SAA postpones the Singapore Open without any explanation. Athletes hoping to use the event to qualify for the SEA Games are unhappy.
An anonymous petition, believed to be signed by over 100 coaches, athletes and parents, is sent to the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports calling for a change of SAA management.
China-born national thrower Luan Wei sues the SAA for allegedly breaching promises made in a 1999 agreement.
The SSC freezes funding to the SAA after an administration fiasco which results in the resignation of SAA CEO Christina Tay.
The SAA is criticised for not contributing more to Singapore’s medal haul at the Laos SEA Games.
Yours in sport
Singapore Sports Fan