On Aug. 8, 2017, Southeast Asian Games defending marathon champion Soh Rui Yong took to Facebook to express his unhappiness in a series of posts.
His dissatisfaction stemmed from the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) imposing a sponsors' blackout rule that prohibits Team Singapore athletes from using their name for "promotional or advertising purposes" without permission.
What does the sponsors blackout mean
This means athletes like Soh cannot promote their personal sponsors on social media as the rule is in effect from Aug. 5 to Sept 5, 2017.
This duration covers the upcoming SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, and the immediate period before and after.
As the SNOC sees it, this rule helps to prevent ambush marketing and allows official sponsors to be associated with the SEA Games and stops the Singapore team from unauthorised use.
However, as Soh sees it, this rule also makes it even harder for Singapore athletes to get the sponsorship and financial support they require to train and compete at a high level as visibility of his own sponsors have been reduced to zero.
Facebook post removed
On Aug. 10, after an hour-long meeting, Soh apologised to the SNOC on Facebook “for hurting anybody by speaking up and highlighting the challenges that athletes are facing”.
He also edited the original Aug. 8 post and took down another that infringed the blackout rule.
The SNOC has clarified that the blackout rule has been in effect since the early 2000s, and brands and organisations can continue to sponsor athletes to promote and engage them for campaigns all year round, except for the one-month blackout period.
Risk getting booted out
In Soh's Facebook post that has been taken down, he proposed a solution to the sponsors conundrum: For every personal sponsor he highlights, he would likewise do the same for an official sponsor.
However, that solution was not acceptable and Soh said in respond to Mothership.sg queries that he risked getting removed from the national team.
"I took down my posts because SNOC had repeatedly stated that the comments on the posts were damaging their reputation even after the posts were edited. It was an ultimatum they were giving."
"This is something that I believe in fighting for, but it is not worth the risk of being bumped off the team because the pride of Singapore is at stake. I will go to Kuala Lumpur, win a medal, then come back and continue this debate. That is how I believe I can best represent my country."
According to a clause in the team membership agreement signed by athletes prior to the SEA Games, an athlete who infringes the blackout rule is required to unconditionally comply with SNOC directions to remove all postings and uploads, as well as sanctions and disciplinary proceedings.
This is so as the rules SNOC abide by were developed by the International Olympic Committee, and are reviewed and adjusted to the relevance of the current market.
Soh's personal sponsors: ASICS and H-Two-O
Since Soh is unable to personally give a shout out to his personal sponsors who have helped him get to where he is today over the years, here is shout out to them: