In a media statement released on Thursday (1 August), the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) announced that two-time marathon champion Soh Rui Yong was not selected to be part of the team representing Singapore at the SEA Games in the Philippines, happening later in the year.
“In the case of nomination put forward by Singapore Athletics (SA) for Soh Rui Yong’s participation at the 2019 SEA Games, the selection committee has decided to reject SA’s nomination,” SNOC noted.
It added, “Since the 2017 SEA Games, there have been numerous instances where Soh has displayed conduct that falls short of the standards of attitude and behaviour that the SNOC expects of and holds its athletes to considering that they are held up and seen as representatives of the country and as examples to our sporting youth. As such, the SNOC has decided to reject SA’s nomination for his national representation at the 2019 SEA Games.”
While they did not go into details on these instances of conduct, Mr Soh and the Council have had disagreements in the past.
Before the 2017 SEA Games in Malaysia, Mr Soh was formally warned by the SNOC for a breach of regulations related to the promotion of personal sponsors on social media. On top of that, Mr Soh had also cut holes in his race vest before his event in Kuala Lumpur which had upset sponsor 2XU, resulting in the termination of its sponsorship of Singapore Athletics a few months later.
More recently, Mr Soh was served a legal letter of demand by the SNOC to retract his statements about fellow marathoner Ashley Liew’s conduct during the 2015 SEA Games and issue an apology.
Upon hearing this announcement, the marathoner took to his Facebook on the same day to express his disappointment with the decision.
“I’m disappointed that SNOC President Tan Chuan-Jin and his team have chosen to behave in such a petty manner. This is akin to primary school playground politics where kids go ‘I don’t friend you already!’ just because you say something they don’t like,” he wrote.
The national long-distance runner also said that he sees winning medals for Singapore at SEA Games as a national service. But since he is not allowed to do so, he now wants to explore his potential at other marathons that he longed to participate, like the Boston Marathon.
Nevertheless, he still conveyed his best wishes to all the athletics team-mates who will be heading to Manila from 30 November to 11 December 2019, noting that he “will be rooting for them always”.
After reading Soh’s Facebook post, many netizens voiced their disappointment towards SNOC’s decision in the comment section. They said this is a sad and shocking news for the entire running fraternity as someone who is extremely talented and made big sacrifices for the sport is not allowed to participate in such an important competition. Some added that SNOC is making a mistake as they’re throwing their highest chance away to actually secure a gold medal in the SEA Games by disallowing Soh’s participation in Manila.
Others pointed out that the meritocracy does not exist in Singapore and it is only acceptable if people “follow the line”. They added that the selection process was done mainly due to “favouritism” and Soh would have made the cut if he hadn’t rubbed SNOC the wrong way.
A large group of online users also highlighted that sports in the country is politicised and Singapore ends up losing the opportunity to gain victory at international competitions due to this. In short, they said that “politics is killing local sports and sportsmen” and the government fails to support an athlete when it comes to training, but they “will be there to champion you (athlete) when you win”.
In addition, online commenters also slammed SNOC for its unfair decision and calls them a “bully” for not selecting Soh. They also said that SNOC will only vouch for an athlete who is a yes-man, and reject anyone who go against them even if the athlete has the capability to secure a gold for the country. As such, many encouraged Soh to participate in private marathons and do well there so he can prove SNOC wrong.
Walter Tan wrote, “Please bag your glory without the SNOC help, then they will come to you without your invite and their tails between their legs”.