SINGAPORE – Just four months after the Republic’s track and field athletes delivered a best total medal haul at the SEA Games for almost 30 years, Singapore Athletics (SA) president Lien Choong Luen and his management team face a challenge for leadership of the association.

SA’s elections will happen during its annual general meeting, which is slated to take place at the Black Box Auditorium at the Sports Hub on Friday (Sept 16). A total of 22 affiliate members will each cast a vote to determine the body’s next leadership.

Lien, the general manager of ride hailing firm Gojek, is seeking re-election for a second consecutive term – which has been expanded from two to four years – after being voted in by SA affiliates in Sept 2020.

His team is largely the same, with Joe Yap and Gary Yeo the only two changes from the nine-person slate, which comprises individuals from five clubs.

They face a challenge from former SA vice-president Govindaraju Sinnappan, whose slate features nominees from two affiliate members, namely Singapore Masters Athletics and Flash Athletics Club.

Govindaraju, a managing partner of law firm Raj Govin, told The Straits Times that he and his team felt support for affiliates from the SA was lacking under Lien’s leadership, something they plan to change if elected.

This, Govindaraju added, would decentralise the development for national athletes, and increase pathways of development for them.

“We want to strengthen affiliates so they play as important a role as the NSA (national sports association),” said the 69-year-old, who was SA’s vice-president (competition) from 2018 to 2020 and was chairman of officials from 2014 to 2016.

“Currently in Singapore, the NSA shoulders most of the development of our (elite) athletes, but by developing the clubs, giving them more incentives and support in areas like coaching development, we believe this will help add to what the NSA is doing.”

Among his team’s promises are complimentary logistical and technical official support for events organised by affiliates – Govindaraju said clubs are charged for such aid rendered – as well as an aim to establish an affiliates’ exchange programme with the Asian Athletics Federation.

When asked if he felt the SEA Games in Hanoi in May was evidence Lien and his team have set SA – previously plagued by infighting and politicking between officials and coaches which affected athletes – on the right path, Govindaraju disagreed.

In the Vietnam capital, Singapore’s athletes picked up 11 medals (one gold, three silvers and seven bronzes), a significant improvement from the last edition three years ago in the Philippines, where they claimed just three bronzes.

The last time they yielded a double-digit return was the 1993 edition on home soil, with 12 (1-3-8).

Govindaraju, however, said he regarded the 2015 SEA Games on home soil to be a better performance, owing to a better gold medal return (3-3-3).

“Overall, has the standard gone up? It is a question of total medals versus standard… To my team, the standard seems stagnant,” he said. “That is why my team is looking at a model that will help us go beyond the SEA Games.”

Lien, 44, told ST he welcomed and appreciated the contest and added: “What I really hope is that the people who challenge, whether they end up being (voted) in or out, are able or willing to be constructively engaged. What we don’t want is to challenge in an unconstructive way… Also, a challenge keeps us on our toes.”

He said he was satisfied with the way his team has run SA – with a significant reduction in operating cost through arbitration of legal suits and a lowering of staff costs – and expected them to do even better in the coming years if allowed to continue.

He added that in reaching out to affiliates to present plans for the next four years, he felt there was “an appreciation for what we’ve done” and called on clubs and affiliates to “step up more” going forward, pledging to support them if they have plans SA can help to realise.

Last modified: September 15, 2022