SINGAPORE – The Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC), led by Mr Tan Chuan Jin, a Member of Parliament of the People’s Action Party and Speaker of Parliament, has made a controversial decision to exclude local long-distance runner Soh Rui Yong from the upcoming Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, slated for 23 September to 8 October.
Soh Rui Yong, a two-time SEA Games marathon champion, recently returned to international competition at the Cambodia SEA Games, where he won a silver medal in the 10,000m race. Despite meeting the Asian Games qualifying mark for the same distance, his name was conspicuously absent from SNOC’s latest list of successful appeals.
This comes amid a protracted public feud between Soh and SNOC, largely fueled by Soh’s social media postings.
He has previously accused Mr Tan, a former Army General, of blocking him on various social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, hindering communication and exacerbating their disagreements.
In a Facebook post on his non-selection in 2019, Soh criticized the SNOC and its president, saying, “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.”
SNOC, in response, stated that they rejected Soh’s 2019 SEA Games nomination due to instances where Soh displayed conduct that did not align with the standards they hold their athletes to, “since they are held up and seen as representatives of the country and as examples to our sporting youth.”
This comes as Soh had a legal dispute with fellow runner Ashley Liew, which resulted in a defamation suit, lost by Soh in 2021 and his subsequent unsuccessful appeal in 2022.
Despite Soh and Singapore Athletics’ (SA) efforts to appeal the decision, SNOC stood firm on its stance.
They cited Soh’s failure to “honour commitments” and his continuation of “disparaging and derisive remarks about others in the public domain.”
SNOC provided a 30-page document detailing the problematic posts from March to May 2023, and a six-page document on Soh’s comments made on a podcast by Shasi Kumar, a former professional footballer, as the Straits Times has reported.
On the podcast, SNOC took issues with the below matters:
- Soh comments on religion as he talks about his education at a Buddhist school. He appreciates the values it instilled but clarifies that he doesn’t subscribe to any specific religion.
- Soh using an expletive as he shared an anecdote about trying out a marathon in December 2014 and considering a shift in focus to the 5k/10k if it didn’t go well.
- Soh joking about a female athletics teammate who cried during the Singapore National Anthem after Shanti’s win in Cambodia, indicating that he doesn’t feel the same level of emotional attachment to the anthem.
- Soh’s reflection on the reasons he was not selected for a previous Southeast Asian Games (SEAG), stating that the reasons felt petty to him. This, according to him, led to a decline in the significance of representing the country from his perspective.
- Soh discussing an act of sportsmanship during a 10,000m race at SEAG23. He gave his Indonesian opponent, Ricky Martin Luther Symbolon, his water bottle after Symbolon failed to grab his own. This act attracted significant attention, particularly in Indonesia, leading to a surge in Soh’s Instagram followers.
- Soh’s comments on the restrictive nature of the “101 code of conduct rules” implemented by the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC).
- Soh comments on past controversies, stating that the truth doesn’t always triumph over power. He notes that his refusal to back down from “false narratives” gained him some followers but was also a costly process.
- Where Soh says, “He [Ashley] has always avoided my eye contact, so to me, that tells you something about the guy” and “To me, the one who has something to hide is the one who’s running away.”
- Soh emphasizing that being part of Team Singapore doesn’t require personal relationships, stating “No one’s asking you to go to bed with everyone.”
SNOC particularly took issue with 23 posts from Soh spanning from 28 March 2023 to 23 May 2023.
- Soh discussing his own sportsmanship and stating that he had not witnessed anything sportsmanlike about Liew. “In any case, real sportsmanship is clear and visible to everyone. There’s no need to pat oneself on the back,” he commented among other remarks on the subject.
- Soh’s comments relating to a past incident in which he cut holes in his singlet during the 2017 SEA Games, where he successfully defended his marathon crown.
- Soh’s response to a comment suggesting that taxpayers were funding the athletes’ trip to the 2023 SEA Games in Cambodia. He contested that he was neither funded by the government nor were his air tickets to Cambodia paid for by the government.
- Soh’s references in posts and comments about the controversies surrounding his non-selection to represent Singapore were also problematic for SNOC, even though Soh had expressed gratitude to the council for “closing the chapter” on the matter.
- Soh commented, “A lot of the toxic people I was fighting against have left the sport, and new leadership is much better,” and where he wrote, “They’re sending runners who didn’t qualify. Some feel the eventual results didn’t reflect well upon us.”
- An Instagram photo in which Soh posed with OnlyFans user Titus Low, as well as Soh’s accompanying comment.
- In an Instagram post where Soh appeared in a photo with Workers’ Party’s Jamus Lim, a comment tagged Tan Chuan-Jin, asking whether he had unblocked Soh. Soh responded, “I prefer not to speak, if I speak I’m in big trouble,” and in another comment, he expressed interest in having a drink with Mr. Tan when asked if the two would avoid each other.
- Soh’s “rude” interactions with certain accounts on his social media posts, which, TOC understands, are known to be pro-establishment accounts that frequently attack the opposition and defend the ruling party on social media.
- Soh’s criticism of Facebook page, “Shut down TRS” where he wrote, “This post says a lot about your obvious homophobia and deeply rooted prejudices against minorities. Your page description says the page is set up with the sole purpose of defending the Singapore government from “falsehoods”. Yet you seem to be the one with false understandings of what it means to be gay.I hope you realise that by acting in this way, people will associate your homophobic and shallow tendencies with the very government you seek to defend.”
Despite the removal of these posts by Soh, SNOC upheld its decision to not select him for the upcoming Asian Games.
As such, one of Singapore’s most successful long-distance runners will be conspicuously absent from the upcoming games, a decision that continues to be a point of controversy in the local and international sporting community.