On May 8, 2019, the Singapore taekwondo community was rocked by the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC)'s announcement that it was suspending the Singapore Taekwondo Federation (STF), its national sporting association.
In the months leading up to this development, Mothership has been extensively covering events taking place within the taekwondo community.
But just how did a once revered national sporting association descend to this point?
Here's a crash course on everything that has resulted in the STF's suspension — and also everything you need to know that has happened up till now.
Mass resignations in September 2018
At a management meeting on September 18, 2018, long-serving STF president Milan Kwee tendered his resignation, according to an announcement on the STF’s website. Kwee’s resignation was followed by that of three other management committee members:
- Honorary treasurer Juliana Seow
- Assistant honorary treasurer Ng Lee Noi
- First vice-president Ho Mun Wai
An emergency meeting was called shortly after the resignations on October 5, where two more management committee members resigned as well: second vice-president Lee Chee Wee, and committee member Yeo Soon Keong.
According to the SNOC, the sport's global competitive and Olympic-level body World Taekwondo (WT) wrote to them expressing concern over the management exodus.
It was as early as at this point that WT asked SNOC to review the situation at the STF.
Taekwondo champ speaks about lack of support
On March 24, 2019, Mothership published an interview with Ng Ming Wei, a national athlete who was dissatisfied with the level of support he had received from the STF.
With his parents having already spent large sums of money on supporting his passion, Ng's dream of competing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has hinged on getting support from the STF.
The STF responded to queries from Mothership about Ng's difficulties in seeking sponsorship for his training, stating that “Ng only had ‘paltry achievement records’ to show so far”.
This was despite the fact that Ng had clinched several medals at international competitions in recent years, including a bronze at the 2015 SEA Games.
Ng, the first national taekwondo athlete to go public and on the record with grievances he had with the federation, also announced on Facebook on March 22 that his carding status with Sport Singapore had been revoked.
This meant that he would no longer be entitled to state-sponsored medical treatment and physiotherapy after April 2019.
Speaking to Mothership, Ng said at the time:
“I don’t know why my carding has not been approved.To be fair to all parties, I therefore can’t say its anyone’s fault in particular.
All I know is that Sport Singapore decides on carding based on input from the STF and players.”
STF threatens legal action
The STF then responded to Ng’s public comments by sending him a lawyer’s letter on April 24, accusing him of defamation.
In the letter, they said Ng had made “false allegations” and “misleading statements” to the media, claiming that Ng had “defamed STF by targeting (its) integrity”.
They also threatened to commence legal proceedings if Ng refused to discuss his grievances with them privately.
Athletes speak out over experiences training under STF
Ng’s interview was followed by a Mothership report in which eight former and current national taekwondo athletes aired their grievances with the STF.
By and large, athletes said that under the national squad, they did not get close coaching or indication of any training plan from head coach and STF secretary-general Wong Liang Ming.
The players, who spoke anonymously to us, said they were afraid to voice their grievances to STF due to the fact that Wong, and her husband, STF general manager Lim Teong Chin (both pictured above), sit on the national squad’s selection panel.
They feared that crossing or disagreeing with Wong would result in them being “blacklisted” and not selected for competitions.
On May 7, Sport Singapore (SportSG) responded to the stories Mothership ran on Ng and the national squad.
In a statement shared with us, a SportSG spokesperson called the STF’s legal tussle with Ng an “unfortunate development”.
Responding to the grievances athletes shared with Mothership, SportSG also encouraged the STF to “better engage their athletes and harness their interest and passion to grow the sport”.
World Taekwondo suspends STF
Meanwhile, the WT sent a letter to the STF on May 2 issuing an ultimatum: either its management steps down, or the STF gets suspended from WT membership.
According to WT's statutes on its website, what this means is:
"Suspended members shall no longer be able to attend official meetings, such as at the GA, nor will they be able to participate in all official events of WT, nor will they be eligible to receive funds from WT. Suspended members may be fined if they fail to remedy or adequately explain the reason for their failure. (emphasis ours)"
And by the way, WT organises the taekwondo events at the Olympics and SEA Games, among a host of others.
STF responded to WT five days later with a letter through its lawyers, to which WT responded the next day with a follow-up missive informing the federation it was suspended.
There is no public information yet available about the contents of STF's legal letter to WT, but WT's notice of suspension made reference to Wong and Lim, saying it has found the pair had breached the governing body’s code of ethics.
It also indicated that their relationship as husband and wife represented a conflict of interest.
SNOC also suspends STF, takes over national squad
On the very same day (May 8), the SNOC announced in a statement that they, too, were suspending the STF as an affiliate.
What this means is that the STF is, right now, no longer the authority that decides who represents Singapore in international competitions.
SNOC said that following its review of the STF at WT’s behest, they had "grave concerns in (STF's) governance and high performance management".
It then established a committee to manage the selection and training of taekwondo athletes for the upcoming 2019 SEA Games.
STF Management Committee member resigns
Since the suspension of the STF, one committee member, Leon Koh, has tendered his resignation.
Koh told Mothership his chief reason for leaving:
"The committee’s role is to serve the needs of the taekwondo community, but I feel the needs of the many is (sic) becoming neglected over the needs of a few.”
According to the Straits Times, Wong indicated that she will not stand for election at an upcoming emergency general meeting.
Additionally, she will step down as national head coach.
Confrontation at the national training centre
On May 10, national athletes returned to the STF's national training centre to collect their equipment.
According to a police report seen by Mothership, Wong allegedly confronted national team captain Raja Zulfadli and demanded that he show her the contents of a confidential messaging group that included the SNOC and other athletes.
Despite his protests, Wong managed to view the contents of Zulfadli's smartphone.
She reportedly denied these allegations, though, claiming she had asked Zulfadli for permission to look at his phone.
The athletes were there to collect their equipment as training — at a new venue secured by the SNOC — would commence on Monday, May 13.
The SNOC also confirmed that they were seeking to appoint a full-time national coach.
Speaking to Mothership, Zulfadli said the national squad was “very satisfied with the proposed training programme which is very comprehensive covering areas of strength and conditioning, technical skills training and competitions”.
And what's happening now?
Meanwhile, the STF is gearing up for an emergency general meeting (renamed on its website to "Extraordinary" General Meeting) inviting its members and affiliates to participate in and elect a new management committee.
Its agenda is:
- Background of STF suspension
- Waiver of Constitutional requirements for a more democratic election
- Election of Interim Management Committee
It remains to be seen whether or not Wong's husband Lim, STF's full-time general manager, will retain his position at the federation, or if the upcoming election will see an entirely-new slate of leaders emerge.
But one thing's for sure — many eyes in the sporting fraternity, both locally and in taekwondo internationally, are trained on STF's next steps.
Top image from Singapore Taekwondo Federation Facebook and Taekwondowon Facebook
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