Athletes want more help on mental health, sexual misconduct and doping, says SNOC’s chief sportsmen representative
Members of the SNOC Athletes' Commission with SNOC President Mr Tan Chuan-Jin (fourth from right)
By Justin Kor
During his days as a competitive swimmer, athletes like Mark Chay focused mainly on the goals spelt out in the Olympic motto of “faster, higher, stronger”.
That was in the early 2000s, before social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook swept the world and put celebrities and sportspeople alike under constant public scrutiny. Off-field issues like mental health, sexual misconduct and doping did not merit as much attention then either.
But today’s sporting world is no longer preoccupied with only gunning for records. Cultivating a positive image both online and offline is increasingly vital too.
“Athletes face a lot of pressure today, and not all of them have the knowledge and exposure to deal with this,” said Chay, whose primary job as chairman of the SNOC Athletes’ Commission is to look after their welfare.
Formed in 2003, the commission ensures that athletes are adequately represented within the sporting community.
“We’re here to make sure that the roles, rights and responsibilities of the athletes are represented, ensuring they have a voice and are looked after,” said Chay, 37, a two-time Olympian who was appointed to head the commission in 2017.
For instance, the nine-member committee frequently acts as a mediator when disputes arise between athletes and their respective National Sport Associations (NSAs).
He added: “If the athletes are not taken care of, they might feel as if this is not something worth doing. All competitive sports will cease to exist.”
Facing the present-day challenges
Among the issues facing today’s athletes, social media is arguably the biggest game changer. For instance, having a strong online presence can help secure sponsorship deals to fund training and competition expenses.
“It (social media) is a huge part of an athlete’s life now,” Chay noted. “There is a need to have a following and to show what you do outside the realms of the swimming pool and track. If you want to be competitive you need funds, and sourcing for these sponsorships is important.”
These challenges have prompted the Athletes’ Commission to take a more proactive approach in addressing them. For instance, it will organise the inaugural Athletes Forum in March, where about athletes aspiring to compete at the major Games are expected to attend.
At the one-day event, panelists and speakers from organisations such as the SNOC and Singapore Sports Institute will discuss and share pointers on five topics: social media; social responsibility; mental health; post-sport careers; and training and competition environments.
Stephenie Chen, the commission’s honorary secretary, said: “All these topics are basic, but they are things that everyone can use. We try to equip all athletes to the best of their ability, whether be it in their sports or post-sport careers.”
The event is also a platform to promote the work of the Athletes’ Commission. “Not a lot of people know how to approach us. That’s what we’re trying to do at this forum – to get out there and show our presence,” Chen added.
The commission will also hold workshops throughout the year to explore topics from the forum in greater depth. The plan is for the forum to become an annual or biennial event.
Strength in numbers
As chair, Chay is also pushing to boost the number of athletes’ commissions among the individual NSAs. He hopes the event will help more associations to see the value of having an Athletes’ Commission within their ranks.
Significant progress has already been made. In 2014, only the Singapore Swimming Association had an Athletes’ Commission. Since then, six more associations have done so, including the Singapore Badminton Association, Singapore Athletics and the Singapore Silat Federation.
On the global stage, athletes are also encouraged to become active representatives of their sports. In October 2018, the International Olympic Committee adopted the Athletes’ Declaration, which outlines a common set of rights and responsibilities within the Olympic Movement that athletes should aspire to.
Chay hopes that this international recognition will translate into greater local success, so that the voices of more athletes in Singapore can be heard and represented.
“They (athletes) are at the heart of the decisions and rules that administrators make. When there are disputes at the NSAs, we need athletes who are eloquent in the detail of the sports. They will be representatives of their fraternities.” he said.