Soh Rui Yong files defamation writ in High Court against Singapore Athletics

Soh Rui Yong winning the 2015 SEA Games marathon. (FILE PHOTO: Singapore SEA Games Organising Committee/Action Images via Reuters)

SINGAPORE — Singapore marathoner Soh Rui Yong has filed a defamation writ and statement of claim in the High Court on Wednesday (11 September) against Singapore Athletics (SA), the local governing body of track and field.

This follows an unsuccessful mediation meeting between the two-time SEA Games marathon gold medallist and SA last Friday on their ongoing dispute, which stems from Soh not being selected for the upcoming SEA Games in the Philippines in November.

“Despite my best efforts to reach common ground, mediation with Singapore Athletics has failed,” Soh wrote on his official blog on Wednesday.

“I maintain my respect for (SA) president Tang Weng Fei, whom I feel has a good heart. However I will do what I must to clear my name of defamatory accusations by the association, and let it be known to all sports officials in Singapore that should you wish to publicly denounce an athlete, you better be able to back it up with basis, or you can and will be held accountable.”

Background of spat

On 1 August, the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) had rejected SA's nomination of Soh for the SEA Games. It cited "numerous instances" in which the 27-year-old displayed conduct that “falls short of the standards of attitude and behaviour" it expects from its athletes.

SA issued its own statement a day later, saying that Soh had on "several occasions breached SA's Athlete Code of Conduct" and that it had attempted to "counsel and reason with him" on the transgressions.

Soh took issue with SA's statement, and his lawyers from Foxwood LLC sent a legal note to the national sports association on 7 August seeking clarification to Soh's purported breaches of the Code.

The marathoner had demanded a public apology and retraction of statement if no such breach had arisen.

Soh sent the SNOC a legal letter last month over his non-selection for the SEA Games. However, SNOC responded that “determinations of attitude, behaviour” and the ability to serve as an example to youths are “always subjective in nature”.

Statement of claim

In the statement of claim filed on Wednesday, Soh claimed that SA’s statement was “false and defamatory”. The claim noted that SA's "defamatory words" have "caused irreparable damage and/or injury to (Soh's) image and reputation", and that he has "also been put to significant loss, inconvenience and distress" as a result of this.

He also pointed out that he “cannot be said to have breached any provisions" of SA’s Athlete Code of Conduct "until the disciplinary procedure in Part C of the Code has been properly invoked and he has thereby been positively declared and/or found to have acted in breach of the Code”.

Under the Code, disciplinary action must be invoked by a written complaint against an athlete. He or she is then referred to the management committee, which may convene a disciplinary standing committee or conduct a hearing.

After reviewing the complaint and conducting investigation, the management committee may make a finding on the merits of the complaint. The committee may set up an appeals panel, and its decision "may be submitted exclusively by way of appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland".

Soh is claiming damages for libel, including aggravated charges, which are to be assessed. He is also claiming a public apology to be issued by SA to selected media.

He had also filed a defamation writ in the High Court on 27 August against SA executive director Syed Abdul Malik Aljunied. In that writ, he is suing for losses and damages arising from Syed's alleged defamatory comments made in a post on the latter’s Facebook page and his remarks from that same post's thread on 17 August.

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