SEA Games: Soh Rui Yong wants athletes to have say in sponsorship rules

Nigel Chin
Marathon – Soh Rui Yong of Singapore celebrating with fans after finishing first in Men marathon at Putrajaya during 29th SEA Games in KL on 19 Aug 2017 (Photo by Stanley Cheah / SportSG)

Two-time SEA Games gold medallist Soh Rui Yong has called for Singapore athletes to be given an “increased say” when it comes to rules pertaining to sponsorships.

The 26-year-old had been in the headlines before the SEA Games for a row with the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) after he breached a rule prohibiting Team Singapore athletes from promoting their personal sponsors on their social media platforms during a blackout period.

The rule, in effect from 5 Aug to 5 Sept, covers the period right before the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur begins, until a week after it ends. The rule was developed by the International Olympic Committee, which also observes a similar blackout period during major sports events such as the Olympics.

Soh shared a number of posts on his own social media accounts thanking his sponsors H-Two-O and Asics and was asked by SNOC to remove them.

After removing the original posts, he posted a screenshot of a comment that asked for a “partial relaxation” of the rule on 12 August, before adding “I’m not the only one who knows that #WeNeedChange”.

On 14 August, SNOC issued Soh a formal warning to cease the infringements or risks facing disciplinary proceedings.

Following his victory on Saturday (19 August) morning in Kuala Lumpur, where he became the first Singaporean to win back-to-back SEA Games marathons, Soh brought up the topic once again, calling for more dialogue regarding the ruling on sponsorships, especially for athletes who need financial aid to support their high performance training.

“I do understand their (SNOC) reasons for having this sponsorship blackout… but at the same time, athletes need to have an increased say in some of these rules because if affects us directly,” Soh said. As part of his preparations for the SEA Games, Soh took no-pay leave since May to train full time.

“Most of the athletes winning medals for Singapore… generally, they do have parents who are financially able to support their full-time training. They are not making any money out of the sport.

“It can’t be just the rich kids in Singapore who can do full-time training and be competitive at the high level.”

“It’s just difficult to give your sponsors enough bang for their buck when there’s a whole month you can’t mention them,” Soh added.

“They said ‘it’s only one month’ but it’s the one month where you have the most social media interaction with your fans… it really hurts the value of sponsorship.”

Soh also said that he is unsure if he will be racing in the next SEA Games, which will be held in Philippines in 2019.

“We’ll see. If the sponsorship rule changes, maybe I’ll come back. If not, we’ll reassess and we’ll see what my incentives are for running other races,” Soh said.

“[But] I love representing my country and being loyal to Singapore. There’s nothing like seeing your national flag going up on the podium. I do think that right now I’m going to focus on Tokyo 2020.”

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