Kids' sports talent school ceases operations

At least one affected parent is believed to have reported the matter to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).

SINGAPORE - A local sports academy set up to nurture talented children ceased operations on Monday, leaving some 200 parents in the lurch.

They had paid membership fees to The Guardian Academy of anywhere from $688 for a year to around $4,000 which lasted from the sign-up date until their child turned 18.

They are now unsure if they will have their money refunded, after receiving an e-mail from its management on Monday morning informing them that it was ceasing operations.

The Guardian Academy was opened in May 2012. Former Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson attended the launch.

Parents were promised assessments for their kids, quarterly progress reports and regular workshops with local, international and Olympic athletes.

Monday's e-mail also said that vice-president of sales, Mr Hari Letcheman, had been dismissed "with immediate effect". Mr Letcheman told The Straits Times he believed the trouble started after around 20 parents tried to withdraw their memberships, which affected cash flow.

He said that during the past year, when customers asked for assurance, he gave them letters informing them that they could discuss withdrawal from the programme if they did not see their child making sufficient progress.

"If you were a parent, wouldn't you appreciate that recourse?" he said, adding: "When they asked for the money back, we were not in a profitable position to return the money."

However, company director R. Sasikumar, a former Singapore national footballer accused Mr Letcheman of amending customers' contracts without the other directors' knowledge.

He confirmed that the company had sent its papers to auditors to find out the extent of the situation, adding that he and a business partner had invested "in the region of $450,000" into the venture.

When asked where the money had gone, he said: "I think it's the operational cost. I would like to think there's no cheating involved."

Customer and human resources manager H. M. Tong said she is giving Guardian the benefit of the doubt as it took the step to notify parents of the closure. "Actually the activities they run are quite good, so if the school can continue to run it's good," she said.

At least one affected parent is believed to have reported the matter to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).

The consumer watchdog could not immediately verify this, but its executive director Seah Seng Choon advised parents to contact the management directly to work on a possible refund.

"If that is not possible they can come to Case, if not, they may want to report it to the police and file a case at the Small Claims Tribunal," he said.

Coaches too are owed money. Former national badminton player Ronald Susilo, 34, said he is owed around $2,000 by the school. He said: "I'm fed up. I feel cheated."

Restaurant manager K. Selvaprasad, 36, forked out $3,800 for his seven-year-old daughter to join the school last year.

"I didn't even have enough money to put in on that day, we had to take every single one of my credit cards to charge $1,000 each," he said, adding that he is still paying off the charges. His daughter has only been for one two-hour basketball session since then.

He said: "I'm not sure how this will work out, but I hope to get my money back."

joseow@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Chan U-Gene

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