ERNEST: Loh Lin Kok told The New Paper that the SSC and Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) have declared war, not him. Your reaction?
OON: From our perspective, this is definitely not war.
We never used the word 'war'. We simply want everyone to be good in sports. We can't afford to go down this path. There's nothing personal I can assure you, despite what he told The New Paper.
Loh said the idea of funding athletes and coaches directly implies a secessionist group or rival association which could see the IAAF (world ruling body for athletics) ostracising Singapore from all athletic events, and destroy Singapore athletics. What are your reasons for such a move when there is an established system for the National Sports Association (NSA)?
We are not suggesting any of that at all. We recognised the NSA is a democratically elected group which has its own constitution and is a strategic partner of the SSC. Any issues would be perhaps to upgrade governance. Otherwise, it would be suicidal of SSC to even suggest setting up a rival association.
We ourselves know the boundaries.
There is an NSA, then the Asian federation, and finally the world ruling body.
So why the direct funding of athletes and coaches for athletics in this case?
As I said, these are taxpayers' funds.
There's governance and return of investment, and we're responsible for giving out such funds.
When funding through a third party like the NSA may not help achieve the objectives, we want to ensure the athletes and coaches receive their grants they need to better themselves.
So none of them get sidelined, while we sort out other administrative issues with the NSA, in this case, SAA.
How it works is that we issue a cheque direct to the athlete.
Loh said in yesterday's The Straits Times that funding for next year's Youth Olympic Games of $50,000 has also been withheld by the SSC. What do you have to say to affected athletes and their parents?
Like the national athletes, athletes preparing for the Youth Olympic Games will not penalised. We will fund them directly in the same system until we sort out all those outstanding issues with SAA.
My message to all athletes is to keep their hopes high and concentrate on being better athletes. Don't let the politics around you worry you.
We just want to get them to be the best in South-east Asia for a start, and that's the reason why we've been doing this (temporary direct funding measure since November).
Loh said his Singapore Athletic Association (SAA) has spent $140,000 of its reserves since April this year to pay staff, coaches, train athletes, after the SSC withheld funding from it. He said SSC wants to see how long the SAA can last like this. Your answer to that?
Let's talk about the tangible here.
I have a set of figures and targets which the SAA gave us, since 2004. In return for all those key performance indicators and targets that they clearly listed out to us, we gave them $12m in funding.
This is taxpayers' money. We have to be accountable for this too.
How can we keep spending taxpayers' money like this when they have refused to engage us on addressing a 12-point plan (first presented in July) to improve the state of affairs in athletics?
But you do accept that in sports, there are no guarantees of medals because there is unpredictability. Do you think that what the SAA delivered in the end - since 2004 - is worth anything close to $12m?
Not even close. And yes, that's even when we know that there are no guarantees in winning sports medals.
But the signs of decline are clear from the lists we have shown you.
Since 2005, there have been questions over depth, qualifiers for finals, top-half finishers, and even the age group, to show these athletes have a longer span to aim for.
And this is only at the SEA Games, the lowest level of competition for us. We are doing this to ensure survival first, then work on success.
But we cannot throw water on the element that the SAA's young team at this SEA Games has shown potential of being developed further. There must be progress, not talk.
Loh said he's been open to engaging you. But you've refused to engage him all this while. He said to engage him day and night till he and his association satisfy you.
Let me correct this perception that everything seems to have been done only in e-mail correspondence.
At the 2005 SEA Games, I was sitting next to Mr Loh and as we saw our own performance, compared to the rest of the countries, I said we need to sit down and have a talk. There was danger of decline. Since then, I've always met him twice a year, face to face.
This year, I invited them to a meeting.
I've even met with him and our SSC chairman Alex Chan, and Teo Ser Luck (Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports & Ministry of Transport).
We drew up a 12-point plan for the sport, and we followed up by e-mail to see how we could put up a plan.
But Mr Loh turned around and said we never spoke about such things during our face-to-face meetings.
So what's the next concrete step that the SSC, MCYS and SAA can take? Loh said to call him any time, any day, after this SEA Games.
He keeps saying, and I keep reading, that there are no problems. So I think the breakthrough will only come if he recognises there is a problem. Then, we can start discussions to improve things all round for Singapore athletics.
I'm not here to go after Mr Loh. I'm willing to second my best staff there, to do whatever it takes to help SAA.
WHAT SAA PROMISED
The following are the targets set by SAA since 2004, which the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) revealed to The New Paper yesterday.
All this, in return for $12m of taxpayers' funds from Singapore Sports Council since:
2005 SEA GAMES:
Five to seven gold medals.
2006 COMMONWEALTH GAMES:
A medal or finalist.
2006 ASIAN GAMES:
One to two gold medals.
2007 SEA GAMES:
10 to 13 gold medals.
Medal or finalist.
2009 SEA GAMES:
10 to 15 gold medals.
WHAT SAA DELIVERED:
2003 SEA GAMES
4 golds, 4 silvers, 1 bronze
2005 SEA GAMES
3 golds, 1 silver, 4 bronzes
2007 SEA GAMES
1 gold, 1 bronze
2009 SEA GAMES
2 golds, 1 silver
This article was first published in The New Paper.