The report #1:
These two reports, in response to Singapore Athletic Assocation chief executive officer Steven Yeo’s assessmentof the standard of youth athletics in Singapore, were published in TODAY over the past week.
The first, a commentary by sports editor Leonard Thomas, came out on Saturday (27 March), while the second appeared in today’s edition. Here is Leonard’s commentary:
A programme in tatters
(TODAY, 27 March 2010)
Steven Yeo’s assessment of young athletes a wake-up call for SAA’s technical team
By Leonard Thomas
After nine months in the job Singapore Athletic Association (SAA) chief executive officer Steven Yeo’s view, that track and field in the country will be in the doldrums for some years to come, is depressing.
If his dire forecast was meant to be a warning for technical director C Veeramani and his team of coaches at the association, then I hope they get the message.
Yeo issued the damning indictment on the state of track and field at junior level in an interview with The Straits Times last week.
The 16 athletes shortlisted for the Youth Olympic Games are well short of the benchmarks set by the SAA, and he bemoaned the lack of talent coming through the ranks.
Yeo predicted Singapore will struggle to make an impact in athletics at the SEA Games and Asian Games based on the strength of the current generation of young sprinters, jumpers and throwers.
It brings into sharp focus the role SAA’s technical department has been playing in developing young track and field talent in Singapore.
Veeramani and his team are responsible for shaping a programme to first, ensure mass participation, then identify potential and finally, give the handpicked youngsters every chance possible to eventually get to the top.
It is not working out.
Ironically, less than two years ago, SAA chief Loh Lin Kok predicted a bright future for the sport.
In an interview with Today in November 2008, he claimed the SAA had embarked on a programme to develop local talent, both for athletes and coaches.
The programme actually started in 2005, according to Loh, and at the time he said the results were already beginning to show.
Sixteen months on, the programme has collapsed, if Yeo’s assessment is correct.
The programme could have been affected, as SAA’s funding from the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) has been frozen for FY2009/10.
But SSC have always maintained that athletes with talent will not suffer and they would help them individually.
If the SAA had identified the athletes being groomed as worthy of financial support, and recommended them to the SSC, they should still be on the radar.
Maybe Yeo’s withering comments on the production line of track and field was timed to send a wake-up call to the talent scouts in his association.
Singapore have talented youngsters in track and field.
Discus thrower Alan Teh has promise. The 17-year-old from Hwa Chong Institution College bettered his personal best of 47 metres (discus, 1.5kg) with a heave of 49.96m to win gold at the inaugural Asean Schools Games last July in Supanburi, Thailand.
He has been undefeated at schools’ level since 2006, when he set the championship record of 47.23m in the ‘C’ Division.
Sprinters Shanti Pereira and Eugenia Tan, both 13 and from the Singapore Sports School, did well enough at the Wala Championships last weekend in Perth to suggest they could go on to greater things.
Shanti clinched the bronze in the under-14 200m with a time of 25.84sec, going under her own national under-15 record of 26.03s set last August.
Eugenia finished fourth in the 100m for under-14, clocking a new personal best of 12.23s. The time is faster than the national under-15 (12.74s), under-17 (12.39s) and junior (12.26s) records.
Shahrir Mohd Anuar, 17, from Raffles Institution College, clocked 10.90s at last year’s Inter-School Track-and-Field Championships, a new record in the boys’ ‘B’ Division.
I am sure all of them will disagree with Yeo.
Indeed, track and field is one of the most popular sports at schools’ level, there are always at least a couple of raw gems in every cohort.
The SAA are set for a leadership battle, with Tang Weng Fei taking on Loh in elections that must be held by June.
Whoever comes out on top, it is crucial he installs a top-class youth development programme quickly.
Bravo, Leonard Thomas.
I thought Leonard’s piece was a brilliant way of turning Yeo’s assesment into an indictment of the SAA’s own technical (in)abilities and its youth development programme (or apparent lack of one).
Yeo said youth standards are appalling, that it would take a generation before Singapore can produce a batch of athletes able to compete at SEA or Asian Games level.
Leonard says very astutely: “Oh dear, Steven’s assessment shows that the SAA technical department, tasked in 2005 to come out with a programme to ensure mass participation and subsequently, the identification of promising talent, has failed in its duties.”
And he cleverly points out that Yeo’s comments are also a contradiction of SAA president Loh Lin Kok’s declaration in 2008 that the SAA’s youh development programme is starting to bear fruit.
Which begs the question: who is telling the truth here? Yeo or Loh?
Here’s the other point to ponder: How can the SAA move forward if the president and the chief executive officer are failing to agree on whether the association’s own youth development programme is working or not.
Someone has clearly put his foot in his mouth in this instance. I am having a hard time deciding who it is.
The report #2
The second report is essentially a response by the track and field community to Yeo’s comments.
And the consensus is this: Yeo is talking bollocks. Here’s the report:
No shortage of talent
(TODAY, 31 March 2010)
Track and field fraternity confused as SAA sendout mixed signals
By Low Lin Fhoong
SINGAPORE – Less than two weeks ago, Singapore Athletic Association (SAA) chief executive officer Steven Yeo sounded an ominous warning for the sport, when he said the poor standard of track and field at youth level meant Singapore would probably do little at the SEA Games and Asian Games for at least one generation.
Yesterday, various media reports claimed the association was targeting 13 medals at the 2013 SEA Games.
The SAA would be introducing coaching clinics, more local events, and would set up two Centres of Excellences in Temasek Polytechnic and Gombak Stadium, in a bid to achieve the target.
Nine athletes – including sprinters Ng Chin Hui, 16, and Shahrir Mohd Anuar, 17, and 21-year-old thrower Wan Lay Chi – were identified as potential medallists in 2013.
Many in the fraternity were taken aback by the latest development.
“First they shoot themselves in the foot, because they are responsible for nurturing talent … now, they say they can produce 13 medals and sprinters like Shahrir are not even in their Youth Olympics list,” said an industry insider.
“These new plans … It’s just old wine in a new bottle,” added the source.
Yeo, who joined the SAA in mid-2009, had lamented the lack of talent coming through the ranks, after revealing that the Youth Olympic Games qualifying times and distances posted by the 16-member shortlisted squad were well below the marks set by the SAA.
Junior athletes were required to compete in the All-Comers Meet in January and February, and the National Junior Championships, with the average performances benchmarked against the 10th-placed results from the last three IAAF World Youth Championships.
Veteran thrower and nine-time SEA Games gold medallist James Wong, Singapore’s chef-de-mission for the inaugural Youth Olympics, said: “Of course it’s a surprise to hear the news … we have some raw diamonds who are untapped, and we just need good craftsmen to polish them, but I don’t think we have that.”
At last year’s SEA Games in Vientiane, Laos, Singapore’s athletes won just three medals – gold in women’s shot put and men’s discus, silver in men’s 4x100m relay – from 45 events.
SAA chief Loh Lin Kok and his management team were heavily criticised for the performance.
Yeo’s comments about the lack of talent among the young athletes was rebuffed by local developmental coaches.
“We have many talented youngsters, just go down to the schools and look … we have a 13-year-old boy doing 39-plus seconds in the 300m,” said veteran coach Loh Chan Pew, who guided the national women’s 4x100m relay team to a new national mark in 2007.
Added schools coach Tan Wei Leong: “I don’t think it’s fair to say there’s no talent. It’s not only the Sports School that’s producing athletes, but all the schools.
“We always have youth athletes doing well at regional events like the Asean Schools Championships, and even Hwa Chong Institution throwers like Scott Wong and Alan Teh are doing well …
“The problem is that the mismanagement in the administration has caused athletes to lose interest.”
Firstly, I am glad that TODAY has given the track and field community the opportunity and platform to respond to Yeo’s comments.
And secondly, I am glad that increasingly, they are not holding back on their criticism and are no longer afraid of any repurcussions to their athletes,or to themselves, if they should speak up.
Secondly, I completely agree with the views of the community.
I’ve been following the youth athletics scene for a long time, way before May 2008, which was when I first started this blog. And I can safely say that the scene has never looked brighter.
We have in our midst a small but growing army of young boys and girls who have the ability to become future regional champions in athletics.
You want some names? Well then, let me invite you to click on any name you see in my tag cloud, and chances are, you will find loads of information about their achievements at local, national and even international level.
The SAA should count itself fortunate to have so many budding talents, despite their poor efforts at youth development, and at properly grooming and devleoping these talents.
In fact,I think it augurs well for track and field in Singapore that these talents have managed to sprout in spite of the SAA.
And this is all thanks not just to the Singapore Sports School but also to the dedicated, passionate and hardworking coaches out there, slaving long hours in the sun to groom their charges.
So shame on you, SAA, for not knowing what you are talking about.
And double the shame on you trying to pass off the development of the youth athletes as something you are undertaking when it is clear that they have come up inspite of your ineptitude and lack of action for a long time.
When you want to talk the talk about unity in the track and field community, all working together to raise the standards of athletics in Singapore, please, walk the talk yourselves first.
Yours in sport
Singapore Sports Fan