Marathoner Soh Rui Yong started 'unprovoked' row over competitor's sportsmanship: lawyer

28th SEA Games Singapore 2015 - East Coast Park,  Singapore - 7/6/15   Athletics - Men's Marathon - Singapore's Guillaume Soh Rui Yong celebrates winning the marathon  SEAGAMES28 TEAMSINGAPORE  Mandatory Credit: Singapore SEA Games Organising Committee / Action Images via Reuters
Soh Rui Yong winning the 2015 SEA Games marathon. (FILE PHOTO: Singapore SEA Games Organising Committee/Action Images via Reuters)

SINGAPORE — A national marathoner accused of lying about the circumstances during a race in 2015 that had earned him kudos for sportsmanship said he was “taken aback” by the extensive comments made by a fellow participant about the incident during an interview.

Ashley Liew, 34, testified in court on Tuesday (1 September) that he was surprised that Soh Rui Yong, 29, had spent considerable time to talk about the 2015 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games race in the interview. As such, Liew, who is a practising chiropractic, felt the need to speak to his coach and a friend about the incident.

Liew is suing Soh for allegedly making defamatory statements which disputed Liew’s supposed act of sportsmanship during the marathon event at East Coast Park in June 2015. He is suing Soh for $120,000 in damages excluding costs incurred.

According to Liew’s version of events, he had slowed down at a U-turn on the 5.5km mark to wait for 11 other male participants including Soh, who had mistakenly missed the turn. But Soh had claimed that Liew did not make such a move.

Opening the civil suit, Liew’s lawyer Mark Teng said that the dispute initiated by Soh was “unprovoked”.

Calling Liew “a victim” as a result of Soh berating his client on social and media platforms, Teng said Liew was compelled to initiate the suit to “vindicate his good reputation”. The lawyer said he would be calling witnesses including a marathoner from Cambodia who had competed in the same event.

During the race, Liew had increased his rhythm and also adopted “a shorter stride length to maintain a slower pace to wait for the rest of the participants”, Teng said.

As the Cambodian marathoner passed Liew, the latter gestured for him to overtake. The other participants took a while to catch up and as they drew level, Liew gave them a thumbs up before resuming the race. He did not finish with a medal.

Following the marathon, which Soh won, Liew privately shared his act of slowing down to a close friend. Unbeknownst to Liew, the friend posted about the marathoner’s act on Facebook, according to Teng.

The supposed display of sportsmanship was widely reported in the media and drew praises from several ministers.

Liew was awarded the Special Award for Sportsmanship by the Singapore National Olympic Council and the Pierre de Coubertin World Fair Play trophy by the International Fair Play Committee (IFPC).

In a post on its Facebook page, the IFPC said Liew’s act had “probably cost (Liew) a medal”.

Defending Soh, lawyer Clarence Lun said that there was no need for the two-time SEA gold medallist to “come out” unless there was something “fundamentally untrue” which “pricked his conscience”.

The defendant is seeking to either prove that Liew’s claims – in part that he had slowed down to a crawl – were lies, or that Soh’s statements were fair comments in the public’s interest.

“Upon seeing the IFPC Facebook post, (Soh) felt the need to inform the public on the truth of the matter – that the Alleged Act of Fair Play did not occur,” said Lun.

On 21 October 2018, Soh posted a comment in reply to IFPC’s Facebook post with his version of events. Five days later, he followed up with a post on his Facebook account to elaborate about the race.

When Liew took the stand on Tuesday, Lun asked him about his relationship with Soh. Liew replied, “I look up to him as a good runner, we were cordial, but I won’t call it friends.”

Liew recalled that during a race in 2011, he fell and Soh had turned to check on him. He added that Soh was the top runner in Singapore, who had beaten him in every race.

Asked by Lun as to why Soh would make such defamatory remarks against him, Liew said, “I wouldn’t know that answer myself. I was very shocked when I heard the allegations.”

Liew told the court that he had only told two individuals – his coach and a mentor Kelvin Ng – about the incident.

“My intention was, looking at the replay of the SEA games interview by Mr Soh, I was taken aback by how much time he spent talking about the U-turn incident, I felt it needed to be put out there to close confidantes about what happened.”

Liew said he had not expected that Ng would share the incident online. When Liew found out about the post, it had already gained traction.

When asked why he did not ask for the post to be removed, Liew said he did not feel he was in a position to correct someone else’s opinion.

The trial continues on Wednesday.

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