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Athletes say sexual harassment in sporting circle is SAA says avenues available to report cases

SINGAPORE — The Singapore Athletic Association (SAA) said that it has measures in place to deal with sexual misconduct or other forms of abuse and harassment in the sport, after veteran coach Loh Siang Piow, 75, was found guilty on Wednesday (June 3) of molesting a teenage athlete twice. When asked to comment on the guilty verdict, the association’s president would only say that Loh contributed significantly over the years as an athlete, coach and administrator”. In 2013, Loh, better known as Loh Chan Pew in the fraternity, had rubbed the then-18-year-old victim’s private parts while massaging the back of her thighs to ease muscle cramps. This happened on two occasions at Tampines Stadium. There were three more charges involving another 16-year-old athlete during his trial, but those were stood down and the two athletes cannot be named due to a court order. Loh, who is convicted of two charges of using criminal force on the woman in order to outrage her modesty, will return to court for sentencing on June 26. For each charge, he could be jailed up to two years, fined, or both. SAA said that Loh was its vice-president when he was first charged with the offences, but had voluntarily suspended his duties by then. To create a safe sporting environment for athletes, the association said that it had introduced several measures since its new management committee came onboard in 2018. That was also the year when it shrank the size of the committee from 26 members to nine elected nominees to curb infighting. It has also been working closely with national sports governing body Sport Singapore to educate the athletic fraternity on the boundaries of acceptable behaviour in sports as well as the channels they can use to report misconduct. Athletes and coaches are told to be vigilant and reminded that “it is everyone’s responsibility to whistleblow” and to ensure a safe sporting environment for all. SAA added that it established a code of conduct for athletes and coaches apart from the coaches’ agreement required under Singapore’s National Registry of Coaches. A member of its management committee was appointed as a safeguarding officer that would conduct investigations on complaints and ensure support for victims of incidents of abuse or misconduct. WHAT ATHLETES AND COACHES SAY Athletes and coaches approached by TODAY said that they had never seen or experienced cases of misconduct in the sporting scene here and would rarely, if at all, hear rumours of such incidents. Three-time Paralympic gold medallist Yip Pin Xiu, 28, said that she has never personally come across any issues regarding abuse or harassment in her 16 years of experience in competitive swimming. However, Ms Yip, who is also a Nominated Member of Parliament, said: “There might possibly be cases of under-reporting, considering how sexual assault victims everywhere normally find it hard to speak out. I think that (Loh’s) case will encourage people to speak up on these kinds of experiences.” Ms Michelle Ooi, 31, who represented Singapore as a surfer in last year’s Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, said that she had never felt like she was in danger while with her coaches or managers. She had been a school swimmer during her secondary school and junior college days before moving on to competitive sports at the national level. Still, Ms Ooi acknowledged that cases such as Loh’s may happen as long as sexual misconduct remains an issue within society as a whole. “It can come up again as long as someone feels like they have power over somebody and the right to abuse them. It boils down to how much people respect women,” she said. Ms Lossini Jeyapandiyen, 29, a national runner from the age of 13 to 26, said that her coaches were often male but would always be respectful towards her and other female athletes. For example, if any of the runners required help with stretching or needed a rub-down, her coaches would assign teammates of the same gender to assist one another. While she has heard whispers of sexual misconduct among the running community in Singapore, she has never seen or experienced such cases herself. “If anything, I had a lot of trust and confidence in (my coaches). I would consider training with my coaches a safe space for me,” she said. Tennis coach Andrew Mah, 63, who has been coaching full-time for 38 years, said that under current regulations, coaches are not allowed to have physical contact with their athletes. “We are also not to have any personal dealings with them outside training, not even having their contact numbers, email or be friends on social media,” he said. Mr Mah declined to comment on Loh’s case. Mr Sinnathambi Pandian, 53, a track-and-field coach of 18 years, said that a sexual harassment case such as Loh’s was something that he never would have thought possible until he read it in the news. A former national track-and-field athlete himself, now a business owner, said that he was shocked by the verdict of the case, because he had known Loh to be a caring coach and manager who would always look after his athletes’ needs. He first met Loh in 1984 when he was competing in China and Loh had been his team manager. “He would go out of his way to make sure I had the special diet of potatoes and vegetables that I needed. I remember that he even went out to buy the food when the kitchen did not have it… My heart goes out to him,” he said. Mr Sinnathambi said that regulations and restrictions for coaches aside, a mutual trust between coaches and athletes is paramount in creating a safe sporting environment. “Trust is the most important thing. It is the way coaches and athletes can keep the sport safe.”


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