I never wanted to leave kids: Chia

Swimming Pool.

SINGAPORE - The man implicated as one of the key reasons behind the disbanding of the Junior National Development Squad (JNDS) has come out to defend himself.

Assistant national coach Eugene Chia stressed yesterday that his resignation from the Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) was the result of the news that the year-old centralised training initiative would be axed.

On Sunday, the SSA had cited Chia's departure as a key reason why it had to disband the JNDS, with a view to a revamp.

Speaking to The Straits Times yesterday, he said: "They (SSA) told the parents that they were stopping the programme in December and they couldn't offer me any concrete plans after that.

"The details were very sketchy and I felt that I had to take control of my own career and plan for my future."

Confusion about the future of the JNDS had been ongoing since SSA president Lee Kok Choy confirmed rumours about the scheme's dissolution on Nov 26 in a meeting originally intended as a pre-departure briefing ahead of an overseas training camp to Gold Coast, Australia, a week later.

"I was as shocked as the parents. The JNDS was my baby and suddenly it was gone," lamented Chia, who was brought into the national set-up in July last year by former head coach and technical director Ian Turner. He was placed in charge of the JNDS after its formation in September 2013.

Creating further doubt for him was the lack of clarity from the SSA regarding his role.

"Whatever plans the SSA had, they didn't communicate them to me clearly and the vibe I got from them was strange," added Chia, who was approached to take over the role vacated by Aloysius Yeo, the former high performance manager who resigned in October.

"My passion is for coaching and I told them I was not very keen on an administrative role."

In the days after learning that his squad was to be split up, Chia received several offers, including one from the Chinese Swimming Club where he had started his coaching career in 2005.

"They wanted me to help revive and rebuild their programme as well as head their group of elite swimmers."

The 34-year-old accepted the proposal on Dec 1, the same day he tendered his resignation.

He informed the swimmers and their parents at Changi Airport before the group departed that night for their camp in Australia.

"I wanted to let them know as soon as possible and to thank them for all their support," added Chia, who was present throughout last week's Singapore National Swimming Championships in his final outing as JNDS coach to oversee his charges.

His absence will be felt by the youngsters, said their parents.

"Eugene was a very good coach and all the children really enjoyed working with him," said Serene Lee, 49, who handed in a petition signed by herself and the majority of parents of the 19 affected teenagers after SSA's Lee dropped the bombshell last month.

The SSA has since clarified that while it aimed to make changes to the JNDS with input from incoming head coach Sergio Lopez and his assistant Gary Tan when they begin work next month, it never intended to shut it down.

Under its revamped model, it will bring together the country's top young swimmers - split into two groups aged 11-14 and 15-18 - under the watch of the pair. However, some existing JNDS swimmers will no longer qualify as a result of these changes.

Said Chia: "It's been very confusing for the parents and swimmers but I hope they will be able to find another club to continue their training."

This article was first published on December 23, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.