SINGAPORE – Team Singapore is set to send its biggest overseas contingent for the Nov 30 to Dec 11 SEA Games in the Philippines – but two-time marathon champion Soh Rui Yong will not be on the plane to Manila.
The 27-year-old runner, who was responsible for 50 per cent of track and field’s gold haul at the 2017 Games, was not among the 585 athletes in 49 sports that were listed in a media statement released by the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) on Thursday (Aug 1) night.
The national Olympic body said: “The SNOC selection committee has deliberated carefully all nominations put forward by the NSAs (national sports associations) for their athletes for the upcoming SEA Games.
“In the case of the 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.
“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 these instances were not specifically listed, the SNOC and Soh have clashed on a number of occasions .
Ahead of the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, the athlete was given a formal warning by the SNOC over a breach of regulations regarding the promotion of personal sponsors on social media during the biennial Games.
He had also cut holes in his race vest before his victorious race in Kuala Lumpur, and reportedly upset sponsor 2XU, which terminated its sponsorship of Singapore Athletics four months later.
And in April this year, the SNOC served Soh a legal letter demanding that he publicly retract allegations against fellow marathoner Ashley Liew over an act of sportsmanship at the 2015 SEA Games. The SNOC had nominated Liew for an international award for this act.
Soh had also criticised the organisation on social media several times this year over its backing of Liew. On June 19, he had written: “The Singapore National Olympic Council should be ashamed at themselves for failing conduct a proper investigation of truth, and choosing rather to only speak with witnesses from one side in order to back up what they want to believe.”
The selection committee was chaired by SNOC president Tan Chuan-Jin and comprised vice-presidents Jessie Phua and Milan Kwee; treasurer Edwin Lee; Manila Games chef de mission Juliana Seow; sepak takraw president Abdul Halim Kader, badminton president Lawrence Leow; Sport Singapore chief Lim Teck Yin, SNOC athletes’ commission chairman Mark Chay, and Tan Chen Kee from the Ministry of Education. The last three are co-opted members.
Soh told The Straits Times on Thursday night: “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.
“I consider winning medals for my country at SEA Games to be a national service. Since I no longer am bound to this duty, I look forward to exploring my potential at other marathons I’ve always wanted to race at, such as the Boston Marathon.
“I wish all my athletics team-mates all the best of luck in Manila and will be rooting for them always.”
In March, Soh clocked 2hr 23min 42sec at the Seoul Marathon to rewrite the national record which had stood since 1995.
The time comfortably cleared the qualifying benchmark of the third-place result at the previous SEA Games, which was 2:31:52, and is also understood to be the second-best time in 2019 clocked by a South-east Asian marathoner.
New Zealand-born Thai runner Tony Payne holds the best time this season, with a 2:20:54 clocked at the Riga Marathon in Latvia in May.
Chay, who chairs the Athlete’s Commission, said: “Athletes have rights, but with those rights come responsibilities. These include representing the sport, community and our nation with certain values, which include adhering to the athletes’ code of coduct.
“At the last SEA Games, Rui Yong didn’t do this… (and) his actions and comments had consequences.”
SA president Tang Weng Fei echoed this view, saying: “I am a little surprised by this news, but not entirely because there was always this possibility because of the controversy he has been in.
“At the end of the day, an athlete’s selection is based not just on performance, but how you represent the sport as well.
“I will need to discuss with Malik (Syed Abdul Malik Aljunied, executive director) and (vice-president of training and selection Ang) Peng Siong before we go through any appeal process.”
Soh, however, said he had no intention of lodging an appeal, saying: “I don’t wish to waste more time on unreasonable people at SNOC.”
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