SINGAPORE — Leader of the Opposition, Pritam Singh, appealed to the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) to display greater leniency towards Soh Rui Yong, who was excluded from participating in the upcoming Asian Games.
Mr Singh expressed his concern that Soh’s non-selection for the forthcoming multi-sport event in Hangzhou, China, would severely limit his future prospects of running and winning medals for the country.
During a parliamentary session on Thursday (6 Jul), Workers’ Party Members of Parliament (MP) Jamus Lim and Faisal Manap filed a motion to call on the Government to undertake a thorough evaluation of the areas of improvement in Singapore’s sporting ecosystem, and commit to realizing clear, achievable goals for sporting success over the coming decade.
During the debate, Mr Singh, who is also the Workers’ Party Secretary General and MP for Aljunied GRC, noted that given that Soh resides in Aljunied, Mr Singh stated that it was appropriate for him, as the representative of that constituency, to raise the issue in Parliament.
Mr Singh criticized SNOC’s “blanket non-selection” of Soh, claiming that it has left the athlete’s sporting career in a state of uncertainty, unlike fixed-term suspensions imposed for violent behaviour or criminal offences.
Referring to an article published by Rice Media in June, Mr Singh highlighted that Soh had taken action to address SNOC’s concerns by removing his online posts.
However, despite these efforts, SNOC remained unsatisfied, and Soh was still not chosen to represent Singapore, Mr Singh emphasized.
The Leader of the Opposition emphasized that it was not unreasonable for SNOC to expect discipline from Singapore’s athletes, but he also stressed the importance of granting the appeals committee the authority to impose bans following a disciplinary panel hearing, while adhering to the principles of justice on a national level.
Mr Singh drew attention to the council’s history of forgiving athletes who had failed to serve as role models, eventually allowing them to compete on behalf of Singapore.
He mentioned specific instances, without naming the individual, of a silat exponent who was permitted to represent Singapore at the SEA Games despite a drunk driving conviction, and a swimmer who won a silver medal at the Games after facing disciplinary action for using controlled substances and having their scholarship suspended for a month.
“Both of these athletes were involved in criminal offenses, whereas Soh Rui Yong has not,” Mr Singh questioned why SNOC’s treatment of Rui Yong differed from their approach in those cases.
“The core of the schism between SNOC and Rui Yong appears to be a spat that arose when Rui Yong challenged the SNOC’s nomination of another athlete for an international sportsman award.”
This disagreement led to a defamation lawsuit filed by Liew against Soh, resulting in Soh losing the case and being ordered to pay damages amounting to S$180,000.
Mr Singh remarked that there is a “widespread belief” that Soh’s recent exclusion from the Asian Games is “a carryover of that original spat” between him and SNOC.
“One cannot help but feel that things have turned personal with SNOC taking a far stronger stand against Rui Yong compared to other athletes who have committed transgressions, as if to teach him a lesson for his outspokenness.”
“I hope this matter can be brought to an amicable resolution with better engagement with a mediator from the Ministry,” said Mr Singh.
He recognized SNOC’s significant contributions in promoting sports in Singapore. He acknowledged the council’s efforts in securing sponsorships and elevating the reputation of sports in the eyes of Singaporeans, as well as parents, in a “very big way.”
“But in the eyes of many Singaporeans on the Soh Rui Yong matter, SNOC as the highest sporting body in Singapore comes out looking petty even as many also believe that Rui Yong needs to learn from the past and draw a line and focus on his sporting career,” said Mr Singh.
PSP’s NCMP Leong Mun Wai calls for greater objectivity and transparency in the selection criteria for athletes
Support for Soh and the Workers’ Party’s motion also came from Mr Leong Mun Wai, the Non-Constituency Member of Parliament from Progress Singapore Party.
Mr Leong described Soh as a talented and record-breaking runner who is unable to represent Singapore at the Asian Games due to not meeting SNOC’s selection criteria, or so it is claimed.
“We think it is a very serious matter to disqualify an athlete for non-performance reasons. We call for greater objectivity and transparency in the selection criteria for athletes to represent Singapore at major sporting events.”
“More clarity is needed around the process by which an athlete is disqualified from representing Singapore.”
Mark Chay claims “door probably not closed if Soh is truly sorry”
In response, Mark Chay, a Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) and a member of SNOC’s marketing committee, clarified that the incident involving the silat athlete occurred on November 27, 2022, which fell outside the code of conduct and ethics agreement as the SEA Games took place in May 2023.
Regarding the swimmer’s case, Chay highlighted that although the athlete admitted to the consumption of marijuana, there was no criminal act or legal proceeding, as the drug was not present.
In the case of Soh, Mr Chay mentioned that a special appeals committee was convened before the 32nd SEA Games, and a special hearing was held for Mr Soh, during which he seemed remorseful for his actions.
“There was also a commitment from him to not make disparaging comments and abide by the association’s code of conduct.”
However, upon Soh’s return from the SEA Games, he made derogatory remarks about SNOC and his teammates in a podcast, which led to his non-selection for the Asian Games 2023.
Mr Chay described Soh as “has been given a second chance and knowingly breaks the undertaking and commitment”.
In response to Mr Singh’s inquiry about advocating for additional dispute resolution mechanisms, Mr Chay stated, “I think if Rui Yong is truly sorry, and he really wants to move forward, and wants to be a great ambassador for sports, the door is probably not closed.”
Mr Singh called for a more enlightened and mature approach
Mr Singh expressed his hope that ministry officials, or even the sports minister themselves, could intervene to prevent further escalation and avoid negative consequences for Singapore’s sports scene.
“Politicians should not be directly involved in sports if only to facilitate raising the profile of Singapore sports and athletes; generating support from corporates, society, and parents; and to bring wisdom into disputes like those involving Soh and SNOC,” said Mr Singh, without specifying whom he was referring to.
“Our sports administrators can afford to take an elevated approach as they have done in the past and be more big-hearted, especially when you consider their collective seniority and contributions to Singapore sports.”
He called for a more enlightened and mature approach from all parties involved, noting that SNOC held significant power in the athlete-state representation dynamic, which could make a significant difference.
Mr Singh expressed his hope for a resolution achieved through amicable engagement, suggesting that a mediator from the Ministry of Culture, Community, and Youth (MCCY) could facilitate this process.
“Our sporting ecosystem is strengthened when we focus on sporting values, sportsmanship and bringing glory to Singapore,” said Mr Singh.
Soh was excluded from Asian Games due to social media comments regarding past controversies and SNOC’s President, Tan Chuan Jin
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, 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.
Despite the removal of these posts by Soh, SNOC upheld its decision to not select him for the upcoming Asian Games.