Soh Rui Yong at the Taiwan Open (Image from Soh Rui Yong / Facebook)

Netizens show support towards marathoner Soh Rui Yong after he was blocked on social media and WhatsApp group chat by Singapore Athletics

Two-time marathon champion Soh Rui Yong is back in the limelight, and this time due to his tiff with Singapore Athletics (SA) after the organisation blocked him from posting on its social media platforms.

Their disagreement came after the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) announced in a media statement on 1 August (Thursday) that the 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.

The 27-year-old marathoner was not listed by SNOC as part of the 858 athletes who will be representing Singapore in 49 sports at the Games from 30 November to 11 December.

This is because he “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,” SNOC explained.

Following his removal from the Singapore’s contingent, SA also decided not to appeal SNOC’s decision.

It was reported in TODAY that SA’s executive director Syed Abdul Malik Aljunied informed that Mr Soh was “temporarily” blocked from the association’s social media platforms, including WhatsApp chat groups, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This is done to stop him from posting on them because his posts are deemed to have negative influence.

“(His) posts were very negative and we are concerned about the effect of his posts on the fraternity as a whole. What we would really like to do is to encourage positive postings regarding athletics. We should be celebrating the fact that 20 athletes were selected for the SEA Games,” Mr Malik said.

He added that Mr Soh would be blocked until SA talks to him about it and “agree on certain principles”.

On Monday (5 August), the marathoner took to his Facebook to inform that Mr Malik and the SA management had blocked him on social media platforms via a “junior staff”, instead of reaching out to him.

“When an athlete disagrees with you, block them on WhatsApp and all social media platforms with no reason given rather than sending him an email/ text/ calling him, communicating and working it out together,” Mr Soh wrote in the post.

As a reply to what the athlete wrote, Mr Malik said, “SA is ever ready to engage with him in a mutually respectful dialogue to put a closure to this issue and to move on”.

He added that the association is making arrangements to meet Mr Soh soonest possible. He also said that Mr Soh had previously turned down SA’s request to meet on 20 June, which was the last time the association had reached out to the national marathoner.

In the Facebook post, Mr Soh also included screenshots of two WhatsApp chats. The first appears to show a conversation between the athlete and an unidentified person, with the latter informing that he was ordered to remove and block Mr Soh from all of SA’s social media accounts.

The second screenshot showed that Mr Soh had been removed from a WhatsApp Group called “SAA-Closed”.

In response to Mr Soh’s claim that a “junior staff” was assigned to inform him that he was blocked from all social media accounts, Mr Malik said that he had requested SA’s chief information officer (not a junior employee) to do so, as he had to handle other roles and responsibilities.

Mr Malik explained, “I’m really busy trying to assist 20 athletes to prepare for the SEA Games. I’m covering several roles at SA, including the duties of technical director, high performance manager and executive director. Serving the athletes who have qualified for the SEA Games and supporting their coaches is my immediate priority.”

Upon reading this news, many netizens penned their support towards Mr Soh on the Facebook pages of TODAY and ST. They said that the move taken by SA is “unprofessional, irresponsible and politicking” because their action of banning Mr Soh is deemed as a “classical example of being punished by high level authority for being outspoken and honest”. Some even pointed out that Singapore’s sports can never excel because the people in charge is only interested in controlling their athletes, instead of supporting them.

Others slammed the authority for bringing politics into sports since they don’t accept criticism given by others and only stand by ‘yes’ man athletes. A few pointed out that the country is losing its genuine prospect of securing a gold medal at the SEA Games, solely due to the authority’s ego.

If that is not all, a bunch of online commenters also said that some of the talented sportsperson like Serena Williams and John McEnroe were never an easy bunch to handle, indicating Mr Soh as someone like them. As such, they said that Mr Soh should take his ability and talent elsewhere so he can succeed, be appreciated and create a name for himself, without the need to conform to the authorities’ rules in Singapore.