On 1 August (Thursday), the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) announced in a media statement that 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.

Mr Soh alone brought home half of the track and field gold medals in the 2017 Games, during which he also became the first Singaporean runner to win back to back gold medals at the SEA Games.

Despite his outstanding performance, SNOC said, “In the case of 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”.

Upon reading this, Jose Raymond of Singapore People’s Party took to his Facebook on Saturday (3 August) to question SNOC’s decision making as it left “many questions unanswered”.

In the Olympic body’s media statement, it stated that, “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.”

In response to this, Mr Raymond, a former sports reporter and vice-president of partnerships of the Singapore Swimming Association, pointed out that “the SNOC selection committee’s decision on Soh, which was put to a vote during the selection committee meeting and its decision to conflate matters in their decision making is somewhat flawed”.

Mr Raymond went on further to reveal that the Sports Singapore chief Lim Teck Yin and SNOC’s vice-president Milan Kwee, who were part of the SNOC selection committee, “recused themselves from the vote”.

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.

Alleged poor past conduct

Although SNOC did not go into details of the instances of his past conduct, Mr Soh and the Council have had multiple disagreements in the past.

For instance, before the 2017 SEA Games in Malaysia, Mr Soh was formally warned by the SNOC for a breach of regulations related to the promotion of personal sponsors on social media. On top of that, Mr Soh had also cut holes in his race vest before his event in Kuala Lumpur which had upset sponsor 2XU, resulting in the termination of its sponsorship of Singapore Athletics a few months later.

More recently, Mr Soh was served a legal letter of demand by the SNOC to retract his statements about fellow marathoner Ashley Liew’s conduct during the 2015 SEA Games and issue an apology.

Upon hearing this announcement, the marathoner took to his Facebook on the same day to express his disappointment with the decision.

Responding to the issue of cutting up of the shirt during the 2017 SEA Games, Mr Raymond questioned if any anyone from SNOC or Singapore Athletics wrote to Mr Soh after the Games asking for an explanation. “Why wasn’t this dealt with back then?” the politician asked.

As for the issue with his personal sponsors which he broke a blackout order as part of his Athletes Agreement, Mr Raymond noted that the marathoner was “dealt with and issued a warning”.

In addition, as for the disagreement that Mr Soh had with Ashley Liew, Mr Raymond said that it “is before the courts for adjudication”.

“Therefore, SNOC’s use all of the above as possible reasons in their decision making is wrong, considering that the runner has qualified for the Games as it also makes it look like it is punishing him for being vocal and just different and daring, as Soh is known to be,” wrote Mr Raymond.

He added, “Also if there have been so many issues between SNOC and Soh over the last few years, did the SNOC Athletes Commission intervene even once? The answer is no. Why not? So what’s the value of the Commission?”

The way athletes are managed need to evolve

Mr Soh is known to be someone who is vocal of his thinking and moves. Highlighting this behaviour of his, Mr Raymond said that athletes who have “a mind of their own and who dare to challenge need to be managed differently and not boxed up such that they lose their natural hunting instincts”.

“While even I am sometimes surprised at how Soh manages his athletic life and how he deals with officialdom, I try to remember that we are all built differently. Out diversity is OUT STRENGTH. Let’s accept that we are in an age of disruption and age old midsets about how we manage our precious talent need to evolve,” said Mr Raymond.

He also stressed that SNOC should consider having a more diverse group of individuals in its selection committee which include youth experts, academia as well as someone from the National Youth Council, if the decision making in selection is not solely based on qualifying marks.

“It is a requirement for National Sports Associations to make clear their selection criteria for participation at the major Games like the Asian Games and SEA Games. Similarly, the SNOC should also do so for transparency, so that decisions are not discretionary or left to a vote,” he suggested.