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Soh Rui Yong omitted from 330-strong athlete contingent for SEA Games

Singapore's Soh Rui Yong on winning the men's marathon gold at the 2015 SEA Games.
Singapore's Soh Rui Yong on winning the men's marathon gold at the 2015 SEA Games. (FILE PHOTO: Singapore SEA Games Organising Committee/Action Images via Reuters)

SINGAPORE — Two-time men's marathon gold medallist Soh Rui Yong has been omitted from the initial list of 330 athletes selected for May's SEA Games, despite meeting the qualifying marks for two events in the regional meet in Hanoi.

This is the second straight SEA Games in which the 30-year-old has not been chosen by the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) to represent the city-state in the biennial Games, after he had clinched golds in the 2015 and 2017 editions.

Soh had met qualification marks for the marathon as well as the 1,500m, with qualifying times - 2hr 22min 59sec for the marathon and 4min 5.19sec for the 1,500m - that are better than the gold-winning efforts at the 2019 SEA Games in the Philippines.

Soh's conduct 'fell short of standards': SNOC

Following the release of the athletes' list on Wednesday (16 February) for the upcoming SEA Games - which was postponed from last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic - an SNOC spokesperson responded to media queries by saying that its selection criteria "has been well-publicised and communicated" to all national sports associations, including Singapore Athletics (SA), since 2020.

The Straits Times reported the spokesperson as saying that SNOC rejected SA's nomination for Soh's SEA Games participation because his conduct "fell short of the standards of attitude and behaviour the SNOC expects of and holds its athletes to".

"Soh's conduct and behaviour has continued to fall short of those standards," the spokesperson said.

"There has been no attempt by him to make amends, correct or apologise for his conduct and behaviour. Instead, there have been continued and persistent actions by Soh to challenge, mock, threaten and/or disrespect organisations and individuals including the SNOC.

"The SNOC views such conduct and behaviour as unbecoming of an athlete that wishes to be selected to represent his country at major Games, and as contrary to the aforesaid requirement of the Olympic Charter."

While the spokesperson did not cite specific instances, Soh and SNOC have clashed over issues such as regulations regarding the promotion of personal sponsors at the 2017 SEA Games, and Soh's initial objection to donate 20 per cent of his $10,000 cash reward for his gold-medal win back to SA for training and development.

Any disputes 'water under the bridge': Soh

Following the release of the SEA Games athletes' list, Soh put up a Facebook post on Wednesday evening saying that his "objective track record" speaks for itself.

"Soon after hearing about my non-selection today, I read SNOC’s assertion that I have made no effort to make amends with them since 2019. This is categorically false and borders on defamation," he wrote in his post.

"I will make it clear here, for SNOC and for everyone else. As far as I’m concerned, any disputes in the past are long water under the bridge for me. I’m happy to make amends and resolve matters, but it takes two hands to clap.

"On my part, apologies for any inconveniences that have arisen from my past actions and apologies that Singapore will once again miss out on a marathon gold medal as things stand. Good luck to the rest of the team competing in Vietnam."

In his Facebook post, Soh wrote that he had been blocked by SNOC president Tan Chuan-Jin on social media, adding that it has made it difficult for him to resolve disputes with the council. On the other hand, he thanked Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, for offering to mediate his situation with SNOC in January.

Soh, who is currently pursuing a law degree in London, told The Straits Times that he would not be appealing his exclusion from the SEA Games contingent.

Women's football team include for 1st time since 2003

The SEA Games will take place in Hanoi from 12 to 23 May, with 526 events contested across 40 sports.

Singapore's initial list of 330 athletes to participate in 29 sports is significantly smaller that its contingent at the 2019 edition, where it sent 659 athletes - its largest contingent for an away Games - and came home with 53 golds, 46 silvers and 68 bronzes.

Among the noteworthy inclusions for this year's Games are the national women's football team, which will make a first appearance since 2003; Loh Kean Yew, Singapore's reigning badminton champion; and 2016 Olympic gold medallist Joseph Schooling.

SNOC has appointed former SEA Games taekwondo champion S Sinnathurai, 50, as the chef de mission for the Hanoi Games, with two assistants - former national sprinter Asmah Hanim, 37, and former national shooter Damien Ler, 42.

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