The Role of the SNOC Athletes’ Commission

03 Jun 2016

By Teo Teng Kiat

If you are a Singaporean high performance athlete and would like to contribute to the SNOC Athletes’ Commission survey, please click here.

We take a closer look at the work of the SNOC Athletes’ Commission and the role they play in supporting our athletes to ensure that they are represented as a community in important decisions the SNOC makes.

Yip Renkai, Chair of the SNOC Athletes’ Commission, discusses in an interview on how athletes can help each other in athletes’ career and transition, education and policies which affect them in their sports pursuits.

Most people do not have to think twice when it comes to choosing a form of recreational sport, often picking something they enjoy doing.

However, it is a different matter altogether for a retiring athlete who has been training at the highest level of his or her sport – and just one of the many aspects that they have to consider when making the transition from training full-time to leading a “normal” life.

It is also one of the key areas that the Singapore National Olympic Council’s (SNOC) Athletes’ Commission helps them with, as part of their overall role to ensure that the views of local athletes are represented and heard within the SNOC.

The latest term (2014-2017) is headed by chairperson Yip Ren Kai, who represented Singapore at the SEA Games from 2005 to 2009 and now works at an international sports media rights company. The Commission also includes the vice-chairperson and former fencer Ruth Ng and honorary secretary Jasmine Yeong-Nathan, current national bowler. There are eight other committee members: sprinter Dipna Lim-Prasad, shuttler Derek Wong and ex-gymnast Lim Heem Wei, ex-swimmer Mark Chay, shooter Jasmine Ser, ex-shooter Aqilah Sudhir, canoeist Annabelle Ng and former karateka Ng Pei Ru.

The Commission is elected by athletes at the SEA Games – the current batch were elected at the 2013 Games, while the next election will be held at the 2017 edition.

Representing and helping athletes
Comprising a good mix of retired (five) and active (six) athletes, they are split into several committees within SNOC, such as those for uniforms, marketing and award selection. This also includes sitting in on athlete selection meetings for major Games, such as the SEA Games.

“Whenever we see a fit within one of those committees, we will recommend the relevant person to participate,” Ren Kai explains. “The key thing is for athletes to have a say, to have our voting right. Ultimately whatever SNOC does is for the benefit of the athlete, so we just need to have a representation there to ensure the athletes’ interests are met.”

One example he cites is the incident involving three athletes during the Asian Games last year. The trio were alleged to have left the Athletes’ Village without permission outside of authorised hours.

A four-man panel, including Ren Kai, subsequently determined that the athletes infringed the Code of Conduct imposed by the SNOC at the major Games, and handed out warning notices to them.

“It was important for the Athletes’ Commission to be represented to ensure that the hearing was fair and that the athletes’ interests were represented,” he said.

Of course, athletes can also approach the Commission for help with issues that they “cannot resolve at the National Sports Associations (NSA) level”, he says. This can range from queries on selection criteria for major Games to welfare issues.

Helping athletes to plan for their careers after sports is a major focus for the Commission currently, especially with more athletes expected to retire this year after competing at a home SEA Games.

Each athlete goes through many transition phases, explains Ren Kai, such as moving through school level to national level, then peaking and passing that peak before slowing down and ultimately stepping away.

Some may want to retire at their peak, while others opt to keep going for as long as they can; the athletes’ commission is also available to provide advice that will aid them in making that decision.

“We look at ways where we can help them to get through this transition,” he said, raising the example of how they exercise. “A lot of athletes, when they stop training, they feel totally lost.

“For some sports like swimming, it’s a little bit easier because you go from competing in the pool to just swimming laps as recreation. But let’s say for fencing; you are not going to go fencing every time you do a recreational sport.”

The Commission wants athletes to understand that many of the skills they pick up during their sporting careers are transferrable to the workforce, such as teamwork, time management, commitment and perseverance.

This will apply more to up-and-coming athletes, who are one half of a target audience for a series of talks that the commission is planning to hold in October to touch on post-sports careers and career-planning whilst still competing.

“Although now you are not looking at retirement, you still must think about the kind of skills you can get from sports that will help you in your career after,” he reasserted.

This is part of the Commission’s commitment to help train these athletes, who have not arrived at the crossroads of continuing/retiring yet. Such training includes guiding them on how to engage with VIPs, potential sponsors and preparing their resumes.

The other half is those who are heading towards retirement, in which case they have to figure out what careers are viable – and that does not necessitate going into coaching.

The Commission members themselves are examples, with the former athletes having remained involved in sports through roles in public relations, sports administration and sports education.

The IOC-Athlete Career Programme (ACP), held in collaboration with Adecco, a world leader in human resources solutions, is also useful in helping such athletes look for employers.

“They help you to know yourself better and are able to recommend roles based on your personality and character, and then they can look through their database and their solutions come in,” he added.

Relating to athletes better
It is “always easier for one athlete to relate to another athlete”, which is why Ren Kai believes the commission is better-placed to give advice to their fellow team-mates – even within themselves.

This happened when Yeong-Nathan took one-and-a-half years off work to train for the recent Games – and failed to make the eventual team.

“Some athletes… would not have been able to get past that stage of not being selected,” Ren Kai added.

“I think sometimes you just need to hear from others; it was quite scary for me to just take a dive not knowing what was on the other side and that’s when I [went to] speak to him,” Yeong-Nathan said. The accountant has since returned to work and is still training competitively.

Despite their busy schedules, the members try to be as active as they can. They have a dedicated WhatsApp group chat and meet at least once every quarter.

“Even active athletes like Derek Wong, even though he’s travelling more or less eight nine months around the year, he helps out as much as he can to contribute ideas and strategies,” he said.

Another key aim is to get the word out about the Commission’s existence. To that end, more outreach activities have been undertaken and are in store, such as associating themselves with the ACP courses, as well as working with the Singapore Sports Institute and Sport Singapore. They have also embarked on a survey exercise with the high performance athletes to understand better their issues they are facing.

“We’ve started a Facebook page… I guess that’s one way athletes can reach out to us, and we also have our generic email,” he said. “Our aim is to let every athlete know that there is an athletes’ commission.”

Looking ahead, Ren Kai hopes that all NSAs will eventually have their own athletes’ commission. This will allow the SNOC Athletes’ Commission to be more structured and be a true link between the NSAs’ commissions and the SNOC.

“For any selection or welfare issues, the number one person to go to is your NSA’s commission… so the flow will be from SNOC to SNOC’s commission to NSA’s commission and then athletes,” he explained. “That will be the pathway; ours will be more of developing the frameworks and policies, and they will be executing them. That’s the way I see it.”

However, only swimming has their own commission at the moment and Ren Kai admits that the lack of “buy-in” from the other NSAs is an obstacle.

“We are speaking to a couple more NSAs to get them started,” he revealed. “Currently we are still working the ground to let people know and understand why having an athletes’ commission is important.”

He asserted that NSAs have to trust their athletes to be the voice on the ground, to bring up relevant issues and be an effective conduit between athletes and the management.

“We need to let them know that athletes in Singapore are mature enough to make an informed decision… Then you can improve the relationship between the NSA and the athletes a lot better and get them closer together,” he said.

“Some of us start really young at 14 or 16 and in their eyes, which are like parents’, [we are] those kids who never grow up,” Yeong-Nathan piped in.

Ultimately, Ren Kai hopes that all these efforts will help the commission lay a solid base for future terms.

“For too long, we haven’t been doing a lot and we recognise that; even within the Commission itself, we are trying to prove why we exist,” he reflected.

“We are not a commission there for the sake of having a commission; there is work that has to be done.”

Athletes who would like to reach out to the SNOC Athletes’ Commission may do so via email