Main problem lies in criteria for selection
By Wang Meng Meng
'Such controversies happen because the criteria are not clearly defined and are open to interpretation.' -- U.K. SHYAM, sprinter
EACH time the South-east Asia Games roll around, athletes get into a tizzy over selection, and spats with sports associations surface.
From the Haron Mundir fiasco of 1989 to the brouhaha over fencing in 2005, controversy has tainted each SEA Games selection process.
This year has been no different - unhappiness over selection in triathlon, squash and basketball has hit the headlines in recent weeks.
Ask athletes and officials, and they point to one main factor as the cause of the perennial problem: The selection criteria.
As sprinter U.K. Shyam, who was involved in one such dispute in 1997, put it: 'Such controversies happen because the criteria are not clearly defined and are open to interpretation.'
Then, he was deprived of a slot in the 4x100 metres relay team after he refused to re-run a trial which his rival Aaron Huang false-started.
The saga was ended when he beat Huang in a special run-off arranged by relay coach Tang Ngai Kin and earned his spot.
Shyam added: 'It's ironic that timed events like running and triathlon can produce selection controversies.
'Isn't the best timing supposed to be the selection criteria?
Singapore National Olympic Council secretary-general Chris Chan believes such controversies arise because national sports associations (NSAs) fail to convey the selection criteria to the athletes properly.
He said: 'It's sad when such things happen, but it all boils down to correct communication between NSAs, athletes and parents.
'It is up to the high performance managers to look carefully into selection criteria.'
A look at the controversies this year bears out these points.
Triathlete Gino Ng sued the Triathlon Association of Singapore (TAS) after being left out of the team, even though he did not make the cut, timing-wise.
Several national squash players were upset that they were not told that overseas competitions would factor into the selection process.
And in women's basketball, a coach's alleged suggestion to use a three-point shootout to fill the final slot on the team left cagers Sai Yun Yun and Cheryl Ng - who were vying for the place - seeing red.
SEA Games chef de mission Low Teo Ping wants something to be done to solve the problem.
'We need communication and professionalism to make the selection system transparent,' he said.
'Under-fire NSAs can take a leaf out of the better NSAs and emulate from their selection processes.
'It is up to the selectors to act professionally and not cop out.'
But Low, who is also president of the Singapore Rugby Union and SingaporeSailing, does not think the spats are bad for Singapore sport.
'It's good because sports administrators cannot be relaxed,' he reasoned.
'Such cases will help increase transparency and improve governance. Still, to represent Singapore is a privilege, not a right.
'I hope athletes and parents can be more appreciative and understanding of sports management people.
'Taxpayers' money is used to send athletes to the Games, and selectors must be responsible.'
The parent of an aggrieved national athlete said that NSAs should just stick to the criteria they have laid out or there would be confusion and unhappiness.
'Based on results, my child should have been selected for an international meet a few years ago, but that was not the case,' he said.
'I didn't sue or go to the press, as it would cause nothing but bad blood. Besides, my child still has a future in sport.'
Though selection criteria have been the main reason for spats past and present, there are also new factors at play today, said officials.
For instance, athletes are more assertive and aware of their rights and the higher stakes involved in securing a national team berth.
Said Parliamentary Secretary (Community Development, Youth and Sports) Teo Ser Luck: 'The athletes are better informed now. They know what are the channels they can go through.'
Chan agreed, noting: 'There is also more awareness among athletes these days. They are more vocal and they know their rights.'
Athletes also stand to lose more if they do not get picked for national duty as there is much more at stake now when it comes to financial rewards.
Today, a SEA Games gold medallist is rewarded with $10,000 in cash, double the carrot given in 1991.
Over-enthusiasm is one other reason.
Said Teo: 'Over-enthusiastic athletes may not be thoughtful enough about the actions they take when they let their emotions override logic.
'They should use the proper channels to resolve their problems and not air dirty linen.'
At the end of the day, Teo thinks these disputes throw up something positive as it means more focus and attention is being paid to sports.
He said: 'It shows that athletes are putting a lot of value into representing Singapore.'