In a controversial move, Singapore’s leading distance runner, Soh Rui Yong, was recently omitted from the national team for the forthcoming Asian Games despite bagging a silver medal in the 10,000m race at the SEA Games in Cambodia in May.
The decision, made by the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC), has not just prompted queries about its selection procedure but also sparked debates over potential inconsistencies and double standards within its governance.
SNOC’s selection process for international games is sophisticated. Athletes must demonstrate exceptional performance, equivalent to at least a sixth-placed finish at the prior Asian Games or a third-placed finish at the preceding SEA Games.
Beyond athletic achievements, the Council’s selection criteria also encompass athletes’ attitudes, behaviours, general conduct, and disciplinary history – components that shape their public persona beyond the sporting arena.
This holistic approach aims to ensure that selected athletes act as comprehensive ambassadors for their respective sports and the nation.
Soh Rui Yong’s athletic credentials are indisputable. He recently clinched a silver medal in the men’s 10,000m race at the 32nd SEA Games in Cambodia, setting a new national record.
Notably, during the race, Soh showed an act of sportsmanship by offering his water bottle to his Indonesian opponent, Ricky Martin Luther Symbolon, who had missed his own. This gesture garnered considerable attention, particularly in Indonesia, leading to a surge in Soh’s Instagram followers.
Despite his outstanding athletic performance and sportsmanship over the years, Soh’s social media conduct, deemed “disparaging and derisive” by SNOC, has overshadowed his achievements.
After multiple conflicts over his social media posts, such as referring to the Council as “clowns”, Soh has been excluded from the national team three times since 2019, despite meeting the athletic performance criteria.
Soh was finally allowed to compete in the Cambodia SEA games after he apologised twice publicly to SNOC.
In the most recent exclusion, SNOC argued that Soh had failed to honour commitments made to the Council, including those subsequent to his participation in the 2023 SEA Games in Cambodia.
As evidence of Soh’s “transgressions”, SNOC provided Singapore Athletics (SA) with a 30-page document outlining 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.
These include comments cover such as Soh discussing his own sportsmanship, comments touching on the defamation suit he was involved in, that he was neither funded by the government nor were his air tickets to Cambodia paid for by the government and being rude to pro-establishment accounts, in discussions on his social media accounts.
Despite Soh and SA’s attempts to appeal the decision, SNOC maintained its position, even after Soh removed the contentious comments.
The Games Appeals Committee, chaired by SNOC vice-president and International Olympic Committee (IOC) vice-president, Ng Ser Miang, ratified the decision to omit Soh from the Asian Games.
Intriguingly, Ng himself was under scrutiny for an ethical violation earlier this year. He received an official warning and was fined €1,000 (US$1,060) by World Sailing’s independent panel for failing to address apparent conflicts of interest relating to ethical complaints filed with the commission.
He was also accused of attempting to influence World Sailing’s Presidential election, a move that potentially compromised the Ethics Commission’s impartiality.
Ng had allegedly emailed a member of the World Sailing Election Commission, which quoted IOC chief ethics and compliance officer Pâquerette Girard Zappelli, and warned allegations against Mr Andersen, who was then the incumbent President and another candidate, Scott Perry, could damage the organisation’s reputation if they were elected.
WS publicly condemned Mr Ng for what it claims is an attempt from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) vice-president to “compromise” and interfere with the body’s upcoming Presidential election.
It also claimed Mr Ng had “misused” his position “in order to intervene in the election and politics of an autonomous International Federation (IF)”.
While Ng has denied the charges against him, there has been no news of his appeal against the sanction. Ng resigned from the World Sailing Ethics Commission in December 2020.
“World Sailing has no jurisdiction over me after December 2020. I have not taken part in any of their proceedings and reject any allegations and sanctions made against me by World Sailing.” said Ng to the Straits Times earlier this year.
Despite this, SNOC has remained conspicuously silent about the verdict against Ng and his position in the Council.
The discrepancy between the Council’s rigorous scrutiny of Soh’s social media behaviour and its lack of action against Ng raises profound questions about the application and consistency of SNOC’s conduct-related rules.
Further complicating the matter is SNOC President and Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin’s strained relationship with Soh.
It is publicly known that the People’s Action Party politician has blocked the athlete on social media platforms, intensifying speculation about personal biases influencing Soh’s exclusion from the national team.
The sidelining of a medal-winning sportsman like Soh calls into question the standards by which SNOC measures its officials versus its athletes.
It is valid to question whether it’s fair to rigidly discipline athletes while seemingly treating SNOC officials’ infractions leniently.