Former STF VP explains why 7 STF management committee members resigned from posts in 2018
Decision-making was 'largely concentrated on a few individuals' in the STF's management.
On May 8, 2019, the Singapore Taekwondo Federation (STF) found itself suspended by both the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) and taekwondo’s global competitive and Olympic-level body World Taekwondo (WT).
In a statement given to the media, SNOC said WT contacted them to express their concern over the Sep. through Oct. 2018 mass resignations of seven STF management committee members and senior office-holders, including its then-president Milan Kwee.
This in turn sparked an investigation by the SNOC, eventually leading to the downfall of the national sporting association (NSA).
Since then, one of the seven, former first vice-president Ho Mun Wai, spoke to Mothership to shed more light on the events surrounding their exodus, citing a range of issues tied closely with the entrenchment of the STF’s longtime husband-and-wife leaders who recently announced they were stepping down.
Not meaningful to continue
Ho, a former chief of knowledge management and corporate policy at the then-named Singapore Sports Council, said he and his fellow committee members had resigned because they felt that it was “not meaningful to continue”:
“As alluded in the recent reports in the media, decision-making in the STF seem to have remained largely concentrated on a few individuals in spite of the presence in Management Committee with members from business and professional communities.
This in turn led to other issues, like those in athlete management, transparency, and conflict of interest. In addition, there were also many good ideas for improvements, including some recommended by the SportSG and SNOC, that were not taken up.”
SNOC’s 2017 SEA Games review & recommendations for improvement, ignored
Mothership understands that after the 2017 SEA Games — at which Singapore’s taekwondo team earned just one bronze medal — SportSG and SNOC conducted a review of the STF.
Both recommended that the STF consider hiring professional coaches who could work with the Singapore Sport Institute to incorporate contemporary coaching methodology and science to improve training for the athletes.
However, this recommendation was resisted by several key members of the STF, including secretary-general and national squad head coach Wong Liang Ming and her husband Lim Teong Chin, the federation’s general manager.
The pair were named by WT in a letter sent on May 8 as having breached the governing body’s code of ethics, which indicated that their relationship as husband and wife represented a conflict of interest.
When asked about the review, Ho confirmed that it was the trigger “that also brought up other issues of governance and strategic directions”.
Ho also said he felt that the STF had not adhered to Vision 2030, the strategic vision for all sports associations set by SportSG.
According to Ho, under Vision 2030, SportSG hoped for a larger role for sport in Singapore’s nation-building.
In order to help sports associations like STF achieve growth, SportSG and the SNOC had developed programmes and support systems.
“These include guidelines for good corporate governance, high performance management and coaching systems that leverages on contemporary pedagogy and sports science,” said Ho.
“It is understandable that improvements cannot take place overnight, especially for an organisation with a long history. I hope when the dust settles, the new management will bear in mind the lesson learnt, be more inclusive, be more athlete centric, embrace best practices and work collaboratively with SNOC and SportSG towards Vision 2030.”
Lim, “Master” and “Grand Master” in Singapore taekwondo
And why was this happening? Mothership understands that despite technically being under the supervision of the management committee, Lim held significant sway and influence over the members of the STF committee, and the local taekwondo community at large.
This stemmed from Lim being the first in Singapore to attain a ninth-dan black belt — the highest taekwondo qualification rank a non-Korean can attain. Having been in the local taekwondo scene for decades, Lim is understood to have moulded the careers of many local players who went on to become coaches, represent Singapore competitively, and start their own clubs.
These leaders, in turn, hold him up with great respect, referring to him with the Chinese terms “師傅” (Master) and “師公” (Grand Master)
And Lim is a pioneer of the sport in Singapore, being one of the founders of the STF in the 1970s.
He was also previously the federation’s technical director, giving him control over competition referees and grading examinations.
All this, Mothership understands, contributed to Lim being given free hand to run things at STF over the years.
Suspension may be an opportunity for taekwondo to renew itself
Ho also told Mothership that despite the STF’s ongoing suspension, he is hopeful that taekwondo in Singapore can continue to develop, albeit with some changes to the federation.
“From one point of view, an NSA’s suspension may be seen as a major setback for the sport. On the other hand, it may also be an opportunity for the sport to renew itself in a positive light.
I believe there are a lot of passionate people in the taekwondo fraternity who are able and willing to contribute to the betterment of the sport, but may not have the opportunity to do so in the past. Hence, I would recommend that the taekwondo fraternity in Singapore heed the advice of SNOC – that is, to cooperate and work together with SNOC and Sport Singapore as well as WT to move the sport forward.
Seldom does one see the world governing body, the National Olympic Committee and the national sport authority work so concertedly to render concern and support for an NSA in need of help.
This in fact can be a great opportunity for taekwondo in Singapore.”
Since the announcement of the STF’s suspension, Lim has resigned from his post as general manager while Wong has indicated her intention to step down as secretary-general and head coach.
The STF also announced on May 15 that they would no longer be electing an interim committee.
Rather, they will allow the SNOC to appoint the new management committee, who will oversee the management and implementation of the SNOC and WT’s recommendations.
Ho also voiced his hope that the remaining leaders within the Singapore taekwondo community can focus on rebuilding the STF for the benefit of taekwondo enthusiasts and athletes:
“Taekwondo, or for that matter, any one particular sport, is greater than a few individuals. Sport is for all.”
Top image courtesy of Ho Mun Wai