SEA Games: Marathoner Soh Rui Yong excluded from S'pore contingent to Hanoi
Top national marathoner Soh Rui Yong has once again been omitted from the list of athletes selected for the SEA Games, despite meeting the qualification mark for two events for the regional meet that will take place in Hanoi in May.
His name was not among the 330 athletes across 29 sports who were given the green light to compete at the biennial competition, which was sent out by the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) in a media statement on Wednesday (Feb 16).
The current situation mirrors the one he was in before the 2019 SEA Games in the Philippines, where he was not selected despite comfortably meeting the qualification mark in place.
The 12-strong selection committee for the Hanoi Games was chaired by SNOC president Tan Chuan-Jin and comprises vice-presidents Juliana Seow and Ben Tan; honorary treasurer Lee Wung Yew; Singapore Cycling Federation president Hing Siong Chen; Basketball Association of Singapore president Koh Koon Teck; Singapore Gymnastics president Patrick Liew; SNOC athletes' commission chairman Mark Chay; Sport Singapore chief executive officer Lim Teck Yin; Tan Chen Kee from the Ministry of Education; lawyer Lau Kok Keng, and billionaire chairman of professional football club Lion City Sailors Forrest Li. The latter five are co-opted members.
In response to ST queries, an SNOC spokesman stressed that its selection criteria "has been well-publicised and communicated" to all national sports associations, including Singapore Athletics, since 2020.
"Such criteria include meeting objective qualifying standards, as well as non-performance related standards and qualities such as attitude and behaviour towards coaches, fellow athletes and officials (whether in relation to sporting matters or otherwise), conduct and character which may affect the reputation, image, values or best interests of the athlete or the sport, and the ability to demonstrate team spirit and work well with teammates and officials," the spokesman noted.
The SNOC, added the spokesman, rejected SA's nomination for Soh's participation because his conduct "fell short of the standards of attitude and behaviour the SNOC expects of and holds its athletes to", which it had also stated in 2019.
The spokesman added: "Since then, Soh's conduct and behaviour has continued to fall short of those standards.
"There has been no attempt by him to make amends, correct or apologise for his conduct and behaviour. Instead, there have been continued and persistent actions by Soh to challenge, mock, threaten and/or disrespect organisations and individuals including the SNOC.
"The SNOC views such conduct and behaviour as unbecoming of an athlete that wishes to be selected to represent his country at major Games, and as contrary to the aforesaid requirement of the Olympic Charter."
Soh, who won back-to-back marathon gold medals at the 2015 and 2017 SEA Games, had met qualification marks for the 1,500m and marathon events in Hanoi with times - 4min 05.19sec and 2hr 22min 59sec - that bettered the gold medal-winning efforts at the 2019 SEA Games.
He later dropped out of the 1,500m so his place could go to 21-year-old Ethan Yan. Yan was the third-quickest Singaporean to qualify for the event, behind Soh and Jeevaneesh Soundararajah, and each nation is allowed only two representatives in each athletics event at the SEA Games.
But, pending an appeal which is open to Soh, the 30-year-old will now not be headed to Hanoi at all.
In 2019, the SNOC rejected his nomination from the SA, saying there had 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".
While the SNOC did not cite specific instances, the SNOC and Soh have clashed on a number of occasions over issues such as the athlete's breach of regulations regarding the promotion of personal sponsors at the 2017 SEA Games and later, his initial objection to its mandatory requirement to donate 20 per cent of his $10,000 cash payout as reward for his win back to SA for training and development.
The non-selection led to an ugly public spat and even the threat of legal action by both parties, which did not go further.
The Straits Times has reached out to Soh and SA president Lien Choong Luen for comments.