Tag Archives: Scott Wong

The SAA — Two-faced, divided within its own ranks, or just confused and talking bollocks?

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.

 **********

My thoughts:

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.”

*************

My thoughts:

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 

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War of words between the Singapore Sports Council and the Singapore Athletic Association

The reports:

Of all the newspapers, I felt that The New Paper’s coverage of the current spat between the Singapore Sports Council and the Singapore Athletic Association was probably the best.

That’s why I am reproducing the paper’s interviews with SAA president Loh Lin Kok (18 Dec 2009) and SSC chief executive Oon Jin Teik (19 Dec 2009) here so that people can get a good overall idea of what the spat is about, and make up their minds about who is talking sense and who is not.

I’ve begun with Loh’s blast which came after Sports Minister Vivian Balakrishan and Senior  Parliamentary Secretary Teo Ser Luck’s criticisms of the SAA.

On Tuesday, during a Team Singapore gathering at the Singapore embassy in Vientiane, Sports Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan had said that the SAA needs to do an internal house cleaning.

“Without athletics firing on all cylinders, Singapore’s final performance in multi-sport events will always be hamstrung,” he said in one of the strongest rebukes of the SAA in recent years.

The following day, Teo Ser Luck, the Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Community Development, Youth and Sports, fired another salvo at the SAA. Speaking after James Wong’s victory in the discus, he said he was disappointed that in the flagship sport of every multi-sport Games, Singapore are standing still.

“I can’t say we are a sporting nation until we sort things out in athletics,” he said pointedly.

“We have a strong swimming tradition which also has a renewal process. I need athletics to step up.”

Loh then blasted back. Here’s the report (The New Paper’s questions are in bold):

****************

THEY DECLARED WAR, NOT ME

(The New Paper, 18 Dec 2009)

Singapore Athletic Association president LOH LIN KOK breaks his silence in a no-holds-barred interview with ERNEST LUIS after the constant barrage of statements from Singapore’s sporting powers at the South-east Asia Games

ERNEST: Would you say this means war for Singapore athletics? Between the Singapore Sports Council (SSC), Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), and the Singapore Athletic Association?

LOH: Yes, they have declared war. Not me.

We had peace all these years, but it’s been like a mini-tsunami in the last few weeks.

But let me say this. I’m amicable. I’m open. For all the accusations that have been thrown our way, I’ve been open to engaging them. But they refused to engage me. I could have spoken up earlier but I didn’t.

Now, all hell is breaking loose. How hard is it to reach me? You just called me up like this, and I’m speaking to you. Why ostracise us to this extent?

Teo Ser Luck, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports & Ministry of Transport, said this in (yesterday’s) The Straits Times. That the ‘SSC is considering funding athletes and coaches directly’. What are the implications?

Of course, such a thing is possible. But this is a very serious statement that can boomerang in his face, do you know that?

All over the world, we’ve seen countries who have destroyed their sports because of such political moves. There is an established system. Does it suggest a secessionist group? A rival association? Do you know that if that happens, the IAAF (world ruling body of athletics) will really ostracise Singapore from all athletics events?

That won’t kill me. But Teo Ser Luck could go down in history as the man who single-handedly destroyed Singapore athletics? That’s a very explosive statement to make.

Two days ago, the SAA and the SSC announced a split over the organisation of the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon. Standard Chartered will support the SSC’s own marathon, while SAA will be the sole rights holder to the Singapore Marathon. All this, coming at the same time as the claims about your association made at the SEA Games?

Well, isn’t the timing coincidental? It’s not rational in thinking.

Personally, I’m not keen on running my own marathon. I was open to them, but do they care?

As it stands, the world’s top runners will have to come to our event because that’s the way the system works. They have to go to the IAAF-sanctioned events around the world, and we are a sanctioned affiliate of the IAAF.

Their (SSC and Standard Chartered’s) marathon will become a People’s Fun Run. That’s what it means in the end. But it looks like it’s all part of a concerted effort against us.

Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said that ‘without athletics firing on all cylinders, Singapore will always be hamstrung in our final performance in multi-sport events’.

Teo also said that ‘if in every SEA Games we are winning only one or two golds when there are 45 on offer, then I think something needs to be done’ and he compared athletics to swimming.

I have a young team and we entered for 10 events. Do you expect me to enter them for every event? Also, there shouldn’t be a direct comparison.

That’s a sweeping statement. That’s because people know athletics is different from swimming. Each event is almost a specialist event, unlike in swimming where the strokes can be used in multiple events, to help each athlete win more than one medal.

From a sprinter, to a shot putter to a long jumper, these are all very different specialist events.

Teo also said in yesterday’s The Straits Times, he was disappointed that in the ‘flagship sport’ of every multi-sport Games, Singapore are ‘standing still’.

This has been an often-used phrase against us. But are we really at a standstill?

You guys in The New Paper yesterday analysed the times and distances that our youngsters did so far. That progress – despite the lack of medals from them – shows we have a young team, and we are not at a standstill.

What about the claims that the SAA has not really developed all the athletes, that the Sports School really should claim the credit for developing, for example, the jumpers like Stefan Tseng and Matthew Goh? But then, there’s the jumps coach Valeri Obidko from the Sports School on the SEA Games coaching team?

That’s why I keep saying there’s a system. A National Sports Association like ours will have affiliates. The Sports School has a tie-up with me. We share the costs. Half Obidko’s salary is paid by me, the other half by Sports School. We all work together for Singapore athletics. This is the system.

Even James Wong himself, after winning the first medal for Singapore athletics on Wednesday, said on national television: ‘Personally, it is sad to see that I have to make a comeback in the sport to make a contribution to the medal tally (for athletics). Your reaction?

That old guy should be a beacon of light for his younger team-mate Scott Wong.

Scott finished fourth with a personal best (44.95m) compared to Wong’s winning distance of 53.60m.

Today, I’m very proud of my 4x100m team which won the silver medal behind the Thais, despite all our known setbacks.

We did it all since April this year – the start of our financial year – without a single cent in funding from the SSC for preparing for this SEA Games.

We spent $140,000 since, from our reserves to help pay our staff, coaches, train athletes for this SEA Games.

How much reserves do you have?

That’s the magic question everyone’s asking right? They just want to see how long I can last like this.

I don’t know what I’ve done wrong. It’s like a mini-tsunami in the past few weeks.

Do you think it’s simply because it’s you who is in charge of Singapore athletics? Do you feel like a bad guy?

How can I be a bad guy? Is it fair?

Do it in a democratic way. We’ve been open. Assist us, but I see it’s all lip service. We try to engage them, but they don’t want to engage us.

Instead of promoting sports, they are treating us like lepers. I feel like this is not the Singapore Athletic Association. It’s more like the Singapore Leprosy Association and I don’t want to offend leprosy patients, but that’s how they (SSC and MCYS) are making us feel.

Your final words on this war on Singapore athletics?

What disorder are they claiming? Leadership? The association?

I’m more than amenable to discussion. But there’s the feeling they would like the public to know that I’m not open.

What I’m saying to them (SSC and MCYS), is this: You may have declared war on us. But I’ve not.

Tell us what we’ve done wrong. Engage us day and night till we satisfy you. Call me any time, any day after this.

I don’t want this SEA Games to be remembered by Singaporeans for the wrong reasons.

I’m not the party-pooper here. I didn’t start this.

*************

Following that blast, SSC Oon Jin Teik gave an interview to The New Paper to rebut all the points that Loh had made. His replies are in bold:

$12 MILLION of the people’s money spent and what did we get?

EMPTY PROMISES

(The New Paper, 19 Dec 2009)

In The New Paper yesterday, Singapore Athletic Association president Loh Lin Kok said Singapore’s sporting powers had declared war on him and his association. Today, Singapore Sports Council chief executive OON JIN TEIK tells ERNEST LUIS there is no war but…

ERNEST: Loh Lin Kok told The New Paper that the SSC and Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) have declared war, not him. Your reaction?

OON: From our perspective, this is definitely not war.

We never used the word ‘war’. We simply want everyone to be good in sports. We can’t afford to go down this path. There’s nothing personal I can assure you, despite what he told The New Paper.

ERNEST: Loh said the idea of funding athletes and coaches directly implies a secessionist group or rival association which could see the IAAF (world ruling body for athletics) ostracising Singapore from all athletic events, and destroy Singapore athletics. What are your reasons for such a move when there is an established system for the National Sports Association (NSA)?

OON: We are not suggesting any of that at all. We recognised the NSA is a democratically elected group which has its own constitution and is a strategic partner of the SSC. Any issues would be perhaps to upgrade governance. Otherwise, it would be suicidal of SSC to even suggest setting up a rival association.

We ourselves know the boundaries. There is an NSA, then the Asian federation, and finally the world ruling body.

ERNEST: So why the direct funding of athletes and coaches for athletics in this case?

OON: As I said, these are taxpayers’ funds. There’s governance and return of investment, and we’re responsible for giving out such funds.

When funding through a third party like the NSA may not help achieve the objectives, we want to ensure the athletes and coaches receive their grants they need to better themselves.

So none of them get sidelined, while we sort out other administrative issues with the NSA, in this case, SAA.

How it works is that we issue a cheque direct to the athlete.

ERNEST: Loh said in yesterday’s The Straits Times that funding for next year’s Youth Olympic Games of $50,000 has also been withheld by the SSC. What do you have to say to affected athletes and their parents?

OON: Like the national athletes, athletes preparing for the Youth Olympic Games will not penalised. We will fund them directly in the same system until we sort out all those outstanding issues with SAA.

My message to all athletes is to keep their hopes high and concentrate on being better athletes. Don’t let the politics around you worry you.

We just want to get them to be the best in South-east Asia for a start, and that’s the reason why we’ve been doing this (temporary direct funding measure since November).

ERNEST: Loh said his Singapore Athletic Association (SAA) has spent $140,000 of its reserves since April this year to pay staff, coaches, train athletes, after the SSC withheld funding from it. He said SSC wants to see how long the SAA can last like this. Your answer to that?

OON: Let’s talk about the tangible here.

I have a set of figures and targets which the SAA gave us, since 2004. In return for all those key performance indicators and targets that they clearly listed out to us, we gave them $12m in funding.

This is taxpayers’ money. We have to be accountable for this too.

How can we keep spending taxpayers’ money like this when they have refused to engage us on addressing a 12-point plan (first presented in July) to improve the state of affairs in athletics?

ERNEST: But you do accept that in sports, there are no guarantees of medals because there is unpredictability. Do you think that what the SAA delivered in the end – since 2004 – is worth anything close to $12m?

OON: Not even close. And yes, that’s even when we know that there are no guarantees in winning sports medals.

But the signs of decline are clear from the lists we have shown you.

Since 2005, there have been questions over depth, qualifiers for finals, top-half finishers, and even the age group, to show these athletes have a longer span to aim for.

And this is only at the SEA Games, the lowest level of competition for us. We are doing this to ensure survival first, then work on success.

But we cannot throw water on the element that the SAA’s young team at this SEA Games has shown potential of being developed further. There must be progress, not talk.

ERNEST: Loh said he’s been open to engaging you. But you’ve refused to engage him all this while. He said to engage him day and night till he and his association satisfy you.

OON: Let me correct this perception that everything seems to have been done only in e-mail correspondence.

At the 2005 SEA Games, I was sitting next to Mr Loh and as we saw our own performance, compared to the rest of the countries, I said we need to sit down and have a talk. There was danger of decline.

Since then, I’ve always met him twice a year, face to face.

This year, I invited them to a meeting. I’ve even met with him and our SSC chairman Alex Chan, and Teo Ser Luck (Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports & Ministry of Transport).

We drew up a 12-point plan for the sport, and we followed up by e-mail to see how we could put up a plan. But Mr Loh turned around and said we never spoke about such things during our face-to-face meetings.

ERNEST: So what’s the next concrete step that the SSC, MCYS and SAA can take? Loh said to call him any time, any day, after this SEA Games.

OON: He keeps saying, and I keep reading, that there are no problems. So I think the breakthrough will only come if he recognises there is a problem. Then, we can start discussions to improve things all round for Singapore athletics.

I’m not here to go after Mr Loh. I’m willing to second my best staff there, to do whatever it takes to help SAA.

*************

Finally, here’s the list of targets that the SAA apparently presented to the SSC in 2004, which the SSC showed the paper during the interview. If it is all true, then it is very telling…

WHAT SAA PROMISED

The following are the targets set by SAA since 2004, which the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) revealed to The New Paper yesterday.  All this, in return for $12m of taxpayers’ funds from Singapore Sports Council since:

2004 OLYMPICS: A finalist.

2005 SEA GAMES: Five to seven gold medals.

2006 COMMONWEALTH GAMES: A medal or finalist.

2006 ASIAN GAMES: One to two gold medals.

2007 SEA GAMES: 10 to 13 gold medals.

2008 OLYMPICS: Medal or finalist.

2009 SEA GAMES: 10 to 15 gold medals.

WHAT SAA DELIVERED:

2003 SEA GAMES : 4 golds, 4 silvers, 1 bronze

2005 SEA GAMES: 3 golds, 1 silver, 4 bronzes

2007 SEA GAMES: 1 gold, 1 bronze

2009 SEA GAMES: 2 golds, 1 silver

***********

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan

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SEA Games: James Wong outclasses the field to easily win his eighth discus gold

The former King came out of retirement — and was promptly crowned the king of the discus once again at the South-east Asian Games today.

Yes, despite retiring from his beloved sport two and a half years ago, and sitting out the 2007 SEA Games in Korat, James Wong showed this afternoon that the passing of time has not diminished his ability to outclass the region’s best discus throwers whenever they gather every two years.

The 40-year-old Nanyang Polytechnic lecturer’s latest victory means that he has now won the SEA Games gold for the eighth time. He won his first gold back in 1993 and successfully defended it until his retirement after the 2005 Manila Games.

In fact, Wong, who only resumed training in February,  practically won the event yesterday with his first throw of 52.18m.

The distance remained unsurpassed by the rest of the seven-strong field although Thailand’s K. Numsomboon came close with his sixth and final throw of 52.15m.

But by then, Wong had already thrown the discus further twice. He had registered 52.53m on his fourth throw before unleashing his best effort of the day — 53.60m — with his final attempt.

Truth be told, it is clear that time is slowly winning its battle against Wong.

After all, his winning distance was six metres lower than his national record of 59.87m set 10 years ago in 1999.

But that will not matter to Wong. After all, he had achieved two of his objectives in Laos: to reclaim the gold medal, and to ensure that Singapore athletics would come back from Vientiane with at least one title.

Now the question remains: Will Wong continue to compete in the SEA Games in 2011. From the looks of things, he may have to in order to stretch Singapore’s dominance in the event until the young but impressive Scott Wong finally comes of age.

The 20-year-old national serviceman may have finished a commendable fourth but his best distance of 44.95m was still eight metres shy of the bronze-medal winning distance of 52.02m set by Thailand’s Wansawang Sawasdee.

The Singapore Sports Fan would like to congratulate Wong on his great performance and looks forward to seeing him in action again in two years’ time.

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan

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