Governing body takes over S’pore Masters Athletics’ duties as infighting erupts

There were happy and relieved faces at the Singapore Masters Athletics (SMA) annual general meeting (AGM) on Friday (Jan 17) night, after an election of its leaders suggested that its recent woes were coming to an end.

But the five-month long saga, which saw the SMA provisionally suspended by Singapore Athletics (SA) for what was deemed a violation of its tasks, appears to be far from over as SMA deputy president Samuel Veera Singaram called the AGM “invalid and unconstitutional”. Its president Glory Barnabas has also threatened to take the matter to the courts.

The infighting between the two camps then took another twist that same evening as SA announced that it would “take over Masters Athletics in Singapore”.

The sport’s local governing body clarified on Sunday that this would involve taking over the management of masters athletes here to handle registration for those who wish to compete in meets organised by the Asian Masters Athletics (AMA) and World Masters Athletics (WMA).

SA has received in principle approval from WMA and is awaiting ratification by the AMA.

SMA had previously overseen these matters and had been nominated by SA to be affiliated to the two organisations, said the latter.

In response, honorary secretary Kannan Arumugam, who was re-elected to the post on Friday, said the takeover was a “good idea” as SA had previously discussed the matter with the SMA.

Asked if it acknowledged the SMA’s new leadership, the SA said that SMA’s new committee would need to show that proceedings and processes at the AGM were “proper and in accordance with their constitution” in order to be recognised by the national sports association.

“With regard to the current internal strife within SMA, its members must first iron out their internal matters and present themselves as a worthy affiliate member of SA,” added the SA’s statement. “An unfortunate eventuality will be the dissolution of a more than 40-year-old club due to governance and management issues, and personnel who are not aligned with the rest of the athletics fraternity.”

Trouble in the veterans’ track and field fraternity first erupted last August when several athletes wrote an appeal to SA expressing concerns over the way the Masters community was being managed. They were unhappy with the SMA’s insistence on qualifying marks for competitions, selection criteria and minimum attendance at training sessions, which they felt were “contrary to the underlying principle and ethos of Masters athletics”.

This eventually led to SA’s provisional suspension of the SMA, with Veera insisting then that his team did not understand why they were deemed to have acted in violation of their tasks “when SA had themselves shown support for these same policies”.

The Masters association has over 200 members and boasts storied names such as sprint queen Barnabas and former SEA Games marathon champion K. Jayamani. According to its constitution, the SMA’s objectives include bringing together former athletes and looking after the general welfare of its members.

On Jan 6, Kannan sent a letter to the SMA committee and members calling for an AGM to elect its office bearers for the next two years. He told The Straits Times that the management committee had decided to call for an AGM after Barnabas tendered her resignation on Dec 12.

On Friday, all 12 candidates were elected unopposed, with former vice-president (finance/administration) Foo Dun Heen taking over the presidency.

Foo, 80, said: “The problems of the last few months are over and we won’t be looking back. Now, we just want to help those who want to represent Singapore in Masters competitions and do what we’ve been doing every year.”

However, Veera and Barnabas say that it is not the end of the matter, with the former telling ST that Barnabas had retracted her resignation.

In a signed statement to SMA and SA affiliates on Jan 8, Barnabas said that she had not called for or approved the AGM, noting that Kannan “has been suspended as honorary secretary from 23rd December 2019” and that he “has no authority to transact on any club matters let alone call for a general meeting”.

“I am still the president of Singapore Masters Athletics and did not resign,” said her statement, adding that she was “made to sign under duress a letter of resignation prepared by Mr Kannan”.

“Should any SMA member, committee member or invited member guest continue to attend this meeting not approved by me, I will take the necessary legal action to nullify his action and invalidate all AGM resolutions through the courts,” she added.

Kannan, 73, told ST: “We are sports-loving people and we will move on as we cannot wait. We cannot stop them if they want to take legal action and we will let the judge decide.”