You’ve heard “Don’t mess with Texas”? Add: “Don’t war with Singapore.” At least stay clear of masters athletes on the warpath. This week Singapore Athletics had enough of the nonsense at Singapore Masters Athletics.
SMA, a voting affiliate of Singapore Athletics, has been provisionally suspended by the national sports association for what SA has deemed a “violation” of its tasks. This was in response to an appeal by several veteran athletes two weeks ago. They expressed concerns over the way the Masters community for track and field athletes aged 35 and above is being managed.
The letter to SA president Tang Weng Fei urged the local athletics body to step in and listed five reasons for their unhappiness. Among these were the SMA’s insistence on qualifying marks, selection criteria and minimum attendance at training sessions, which the signatories felt were “contrary to the underlying principle and ethos of Masters athletics.”
WMA better pay heed. A half-dozen athletes wrote me over the outrage they felt in reading Prez Margit Jungmann’s comment that “it seems that there were some misunderstandings.”
The athletes provided smoking-gun proof that SMA intended to impose qualifying standards on every athlete who wanted to compete in December’s Asian Masters Athletics Championships — not just those seeking travel subsidies.
- SMA’s qualifying standards for AMA meet entry
- SMA briefing for 21st Asia Masters Championships in Kuching
- SMA explanation for its standards and other rules for AMA meet
Mark Dixon wrote: “More accurately SMA have removed the qualification standards in the last few days due to overwhelming public pressure and persuasion from Singapore Athletics. This is a backflip, not a misunderstanding. … I do not believe anyone outside SMA has ever seen details on what the subsidy was. I suspect now that they have relaxed the qualification, there will be no subsidy at all, if there ever was one. SMA is coloring the truth and I fear they will get away with this behavior.”
A great blog post summarized the state of misaffairs:
There was a petition launched recently to check on some violations by SMA and also a letter to Grace Fu on the same matter. The petition garnered more than 1352 signatures from the small community of masters athletes, including support from more than 10 local clubs and members and supporters from regional masters clubs.
The appeal letter to Grace Fu also triggered SA to conduct an investigation that led to the suspension of SMA from all activities except the ongoing registration of masters athletes participating in the Asian Masters Meet in Kuching in the first week of December. SMA is expected to explain its case to SA including submission of club meeting minutes, election of members etc etc as a follow up to the investigation.
The issues that led to the petition and letter to Grace Fu include:
1. Compulsory centralized training for masters athletes
2. Staying in the same hotel and spouses not allowed to accompany the athletes
3. PRs not allowed to participate (Note: this point was not in the letter to the minister)
4. Qualifying times/marks. Masters athletes that did not meet these criteria not allowed to participate
5. Masters athletes would also be judged on their attitude, character and behavior to represent Singapore
These criteria are new and not imposed by the World Masters Athletics, WMA and Asia Masters Athletics, AMA but unilaterally set by SMA.
SMA is one of more than 10 local athletic clubs that have masters membership. The biggest masters club in terms of paid membership is SMTFA. SMTFA is also the first masters club formed in Singapore. Most of the clubs are unhappy with SMA for unilaterally setting the above rules and criteria without consulting them, and furious as the rules are unnecessary and violate the ethos of WMA, AMA and the objectives of masters athletes, ie maximum participation from masters athletes including fellowship and camaraderie with their spouses.
The most critical issue is centralized training for masters athletes to raise standards of participation and to dismiss masters meets as a fun event. Masters athletes are seniors in age, and many very senior in their professions. And given the law of nature, many would have some medical conditions and in worse case scenarios some are in worse shape than para athletes. Just to be able to compete at their age and condition is already a great achievement. Pulling the ageing body to train is itself a heavy task, when the heart is willing but the body unwilling.
The standard of competition is still very high among the masters athletes at international levels, ie regional and world meets. A notable example is Bill Collins who did 12.2 sec for 100m at age 66 after recovering from muscle atrophy. Not many young men can clock this kind of time. The national, regional and world competitions on their own would set the standards of participation at a very high level, not simply for fun as the laymen would think.
Like the marathon, many would just want to compete for personal satisfaction, to have done that. I have seen uncles and aunties in their 80s and 90s struggling to compete in 5km and 10km walk. Even in their own time is no mean feat. Our local hero, uncle Kor Hong Fatt is 87 and still walking and winning gold medals, despite having gone through some serious medical conditions.
Do not dismiss masters athletes as being there for fun. Participating in masters athletic competition for personal satisfaction and goals is very trying and demands a lot of training and discipline. Try running 100m at 100 years old. Many are already struggling to keep fit in their 60s.
Masters athletic competition is real competition, keeping fit and also about making friends and having a little fun. Any seniors who think this is child play, having fun, should try to drag themselves to the track and do some running, jumping or throwing to see how they fare and whether their ageing bodies can take it.
All the masters clubs and masters athletes are hoping that at the end of this unhappy saga, more will be done for masters athletes, better organization and understanding, recognition and support from the govt, to promote healthy lifestyle and healthy living for senior citizens, tangible support like those given to para athletes, not just lip service. There are more than half a million seniors wanting to live life longer and healthier and to support ActiveSg activities.
It is high time the govt recognizes the needs of senior citizens and put the money where their mouth is.
With so many masters athletes clubs here, no one club should be allowed to set their agenda without consulting other clubs and to discriminate against other clubs especially in participation and representing Singapore in international meets.
PS. Below are a few comments from a post in TOC on the suspension of SMA by SA.
“The man at the centre of the SMA controversy, its Deputy President Mr Samuel Veera Singaram told the Straits Times that he was taken by surprise by the suspension….
Mr Singaram is, unfortunately, no stranger to controversy.
He is known to have created issues when he was with Singapore Swimming Association as a technical official.
He was also jailed in 1994 for criminal breach of trust and cheating when he was a manager of the Sembawang Sports Club.”
Just a legal question, can a person that has been jailed for CBT be allowed to hold office in a public club and also involved in fund raising and financial matters of a club?
Jason Wong, an M50 short hurdler who made the finals of the last two world meets, is president of the Singapore Masters Track & Field Association. He added: “Absolutely no misunderstanding. Our athletes were told quite plainly right from the start in several meetings and training sessions organised by SMA and also in written communication that if we did not meet the event qualification standards and did not meet their other requirements (i.e. 75% centralised training) they would not be allowed to go. The details of the subsidy was never shared with the masters community till date in black and white. And till date, SMA has not agreed on allowing our permanent residents to participate in the registration: ” WMA and AMA will not interfere with Singapore PR athlete issue” as quoted by Kannan.”
So has SMA lost its WMA affiliate status? Will Singapore Athletics be able to send masters tracksters to Malaysia for WMA regionals (and later 2020 Toronto worlds)? Stay tuned.
Update: Jason answers my question:
SMA is registering the athletes for the championship and all submission must be made to them by 25 Aug. The closing date for entry stated on the website is 1 Sep and late entry by 7 Sep with additional fees.
Permanent Residents of Singapore are still not allowed to be registered as claimed by SMA that they are following the Singapore National Olympic Council ruling. No such rules and regulation regarding this appeared in the technical handbook but for World Masters Championship, I believe the representation is quite clear that athlete has to stay in the country for certain months and can represent that country.
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