Mon, May 03, 2010
The Straits Times
An unfortunate accident: Coroner

By Elena Chong, Courts Correspondent

THE organisers of the taekwondo tournament, which saw Vincent Tan Sze Hao dead after his opponent kicked his head guard, did not breach any safety regulations, said State Coroner Victor Yeo yesterday.

He said what happened to the 17-year-old was an 'unfortunate accident' following an inquest into the student's death on July 9 last year.

He added that Vincent's opponent was also not to blame as the 15-year-old had no intention of injuring Vincent. The younger boy's kick was not meant to be fatal, said the coroner.

Even if there had been a doctor or ambulance on standby, it would not have made a difference as the doctor could do little without the necessary medical equipment and drugs for the rupture to Vincent's neck artery.

In coming to his decision, he also commended the boy's sister, Vivian, for her maturity despite the difficult time of coming to terms with the loss of her only brother.

Vivian, now 17, who saw what happened at the tournament, thought that after the kick her brother was merely knocked out.

'Whilst she could not accept the sudden death of her brother, and did not blame anyone for his death, she knew that this was just a freak accident and no one expected that to happen.'

State Coroner Yeo added that like many other contact sports, taekwondo has the inherent risk of bodily injury.

He said serious injuries can sometimes occur even in the best of sportsmanship, but fatalities are rare even in high-risk sports.

The incident - the first fatality in the sport in Singapore - happen at Kampong Kembangan community centre on July 5 last year.

The tournament was the fourth to be organised by the Greenville Residents' Committee and Kampong Ubi-Kembangan Constituency Sports Committee, with the support of the Singapore Taekwondo Gymnasium (STG).

State Coroner Yeo said this was not a case in which the contestant had been severely and brutally beaten by another opponent.

'Quite the contrary, the incontrovertible evidence clearly showed that the incident happened too early in the bout for either the referee or coaches to even assess the sparring or to stop the match.

'This was purely an unfortunate accident and indeed a tragedy for the taekwondo fraternity.'

After the incident, the committee of inquiry convened by the People's Association concluded that there was no violation by the event's organisers of the competition rules. No rule was broken with regard to the head kick delivered by the teen.

But the STG has since changed its rules, allowing head kicks only for those above 18 years. An ambulance should also be on standby to ferry any injured person to the hospital.

Vincent's mother was not in court yesterday and his two sisters who were present declined comment.

The family was represented by Mr Subhas Anandan and Mr Sunil Sudheesan.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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