SINGAPORE: The Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) has accepted marathoner Soh Rui Yong's apology for making the organisation "seem like the bad guy", after a series of Facebook posts starting on Tuesday (Aug 8) regarding sponsorship rules.
"We accept Rui Yong’s apology and are helping him to move on from this episode so that he can focus on his preparations for the 2017 SEA Games," SNOC secretary-general Chris Chan said in an email response.
The sponsorship disagreement involved the SEA Games defending marathon champion's unhappiness with SNOC's sponsors' blackout rule, which prohibits Team Singapore athletes from using their name for "promotional or advertising purposes" without permission. This includes promoting their personal sponsors on social media.
The rule helps to "prevent ambush marketing and protect the marks and association of the Games and the team from unauthorised use", Chan said. The rule is in effect from Aug 5 to Sep 5, which covers the duration of the upcoming SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, and the immediate period before and after.
Soh first expressed his unhappiness about the rule in a Facebook post on Tuesday, in which he said the rule "makes it even harder for Singapore athletes to get the sponsorship and financial support which we require to train and compete at a high level". He also alluded to his sponsor in the post.
Following the post, Chan said SNOC officials met with Soh on Thursday to “hear him out and explain the rules to him”. After the hour-long meeting, Soh apologised on Facebook “for hurting anybody by speaking up and highlighting the challenges that athletes are facing”. He also edited the original post and took down another that infringed the blackout rule.
"Unfortunately, I've inadvertently hurt some people by going public for this case," Soh told Channel NewsAsia in a separate interview on Thursday. "Really, what I'm attacking is one rule in the team agreement that makes life tough for athletes."
RULE "NOT NEW TO ATHLETES": SNOC
Explaining his frustration, Soh said the rule "quite literally reduces the opportunities that athletes are exposed to".
"The day I run out of sponsorship money and financial support is the day I retire from track and field because I won't be able to fund full-time training and competing at the highest level,” he said.
"If I have to compete with guys like (Indonesian and Thai marathoners) Agus Prayogo and Srisung Boonthung – who are training full-time and supported by the Thai and Indonesian governments – I need to be able to train at the same level."
But Chan maintained that the blackout rule, which he said has been in effect since the early 2000s, “is not new to athletes and officials representing Singapore at the major Games”.
“Brands and organisations who sponsor our athletes can promote and engage them for their promotional campaigns all year round except for the one-month blackout period so that official brands and organisations can leverage on their association with the major Games and the SNOC,” he said.
RULE PUSHES SPONSORS AWAY: SOH
To that end, Soh said the major Games is when sponsors “get the most exposure”. “It is when most Singaporeans will tune in, and when the whole country is watching. (Yet) your personal sponsor has zero visibility because of this rule,” he said.
Soh said he missed out on a sponsorship deal with an earphone company because of the blackout rule. The company offered him S$1,500 to upload three sponsored posts on social media before and after the SEA Games, he said.
But after he told the company about the blackout rule, it backed away and said “maybe if you win the SEA Games again, we can explore opportunities after”.
“So I go from being able to cash in on S$1,500, to I have to win the thing again and hope they come back,” Soh said. “That S$1,500 is very useful for defraying my living and training expenses.”
Moving forward, Soh said he will "play within the rules always, but at the same time, I want to make sure that whoever supported me to get this far should get some sort of recognition".
According to a clause in the team membership agreement signed by athletes prior to the Games, an athlete who infringes the blackout rule will “unconditionally comply with SNOC directions to remove all postings and uploads (as well as) sanctions and disciplinary proceedings”.
“These rules have been developed by the International Olympic Committee which we constantly review, adapt and adjust to the relevance of our market,” Chan added. “We wish (Soh) and all our athletes the best and will be at the team’s disposal if they require any clarification.”