Thursday, November 27, 2008

November 27, 2008 Thursday
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Dragon-boat deaths last year: Still much on mind of fellow rower
I REFER to Monday's article, 'Dragon-boat deaths: Pain still lingers'.

I read with heartache as it brought back sad memories of how these five young men perished in the prime of their lives while representing their nation. Time and tide wait for no man and it has been a year since their departure from their loved ones, but the recollection of how they left is still clear and painful, even to someone like me who knew none of them. I can understand the shock and sadness suffered by their loved ones when they were taken away so suddenly. Like these young men, I am involved in this field of sports. With their sacrifice, I told myself I need to be as committed and passionate about this sports as they were.
I was present at the first day of the regatta race on Nov 23, the day before what I reminded some comrades would be their first death anniversary. I hoped the organisers would have coordinated a brief memorial or tribute to these national heroes. To my dismay, I was told there would be no service.
I can empathise with how Mr Freddie Kee and Mrs Cathy Loh felt on losing their dearest sons. Keeping close tabs on this incident since last year, I could see Mr Kee was visibly upset that the Singapore Dragon Boat Association did not wish to apologise nor take responsibility for the mishap on the Tonle Sap river in Cambodia on Nov 23. Its apology was only for the misleading message to the families that the rowers might not have been good swimmers.
Dragon-boat rowing inculcates team spirit, bonding and accountability. To row as a team for the association and for the nation, every single member of the national team, from the individual rower, captain, team manager and coach, to the sponsors and the association that guided, coached and ultimately sent the team to an unfamiliar race site, should be accountable for what went wrong. Accountability is an indication of how a mature adult, organisation or country functions, so it is unusual that the tragedy report took longer than expected and found no one at fault.
If the association had apologised to the families of the dead, it would have assured them that their sons had not died in vain. Sometimes in life, it is not about technicalities of an investigative report that finds no one at fault, but accountability.
As to whether the dragon-boat fraternity has progressed since a year ago, I would say there is still room for improvement. Go to the association headquarters and you will find only two toilets with no water from the tap to take a shower (the nearest is about 1km away). There are no carpark lots for the many avid rowers, and no proper equipment storage.
As for the recent Singapore River Regatta, the briefing was done only four days before the event, giving team managers little time to communicate to the rowers. The race site was packed with teams along the narrow stairways leading to the pontoon, causing safety issues. Strong currents moved the boats dangerously. And the race was delayed by almost two hours, so some teams that had gathered since 7am got to row only in the afternoon.

Desmond Koh

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