Taekwondo: Former STF sec-gen Wong fails in bid to overturn suspension

SINGAPORE – Former Singapore Taekwondo Federation (STF) secretary-general Wong Liang Ming has failed to overturn a decision to dismiss her application for leave for judicial review and apply for a quashing order against STF’s enforcement of a suspension from governing body World Taekwondo.

Her appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal on May 6. Wong, 58, was also ordered to pay $25,000 in costs, inclusive of disbursements.

The ruling means the four-time SEA Games champion remains barred from taekwondo-related activities worldwide under WT’s jurisdiction, including those in Singapore.

The STF said: “We are glad that this case has come to a close. In these uncertain and challenging times, we hope that we can be allowed to focus our energy towards the development of Taekwondo in Singapore.”

Wong told The Straits Times while she was “saddened and disappointed with the outcome, but we respect and accept the decision”, referring to herself, her husband, former STF general manager Lim Teong Chin, and her legal counsel Clarence Lun of Fervent Chambers.

On her current and future plans, she declined to elaborate but said she has not considered any taekwondo-related work, even if the options are not under WT’s jurisdiction.

“I do not want to put any of my friends in a difficult position, because most of their (clubs) are affiliated to STF,” she said.

The legal tussle between Wong and the STF follows a series of incidents involving the latter and WT that started over two years earlier.

In May 2019, WT and the Singapore National Olympic Council suspended the STF after the national association was charged with violating the world body’s rules on good governance and a failure to receive recognition from the appropriate national Olympic committee. STF’s membership has yet to be reinstated.

Three months later, WT informed Wong of its charge against her for violating two articles of its ethics code and a preliminary suspension, pending determination by a tribunal.

However, she sent legal letters to the STF and WT informing the latter that she would “cease to participate” in the Seoul-based world body’s hearings as it had rejected her request for a three-man tribunal, instead deciding on a one-man tribunal.

The global body in January 2020 then stated that she had been banned for “grave misconduct” and barred her from taekwondo-related activities worldwide, including Singapore.

STF later announced the suspension on its website in May. Neither the STF nor WT stated the length of the suspension.

In September, STF announced a clarification on Wong’s status, stating that she was not allowed to participate only in taekwondo activities in Singapore “which are coordinated and/or sanctioned and/or organised in Singapore (including national and international taekwondo tournaments, demonstrations and gradings) by STF” as well as “taekwondo activities sanctioned and/or promoted by WT worldwide”.

In its oral judgement on May 6, the Court of Appeal noted that Wong’s appeal “ultimately fails on two grounds”.

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First, she had failed to demonstrate a prima facie (“at first look”) case of reasonable suspicion of illegality, irrationality or procedural impropriety.

The STF, the court noted, was obliged as a member national association of WT to publish and give effect to WT’s decision. This also meant there was “no procedural unfairness” on STF’s part in not convening a hearing for Wong.

Second, the court found that Wong had “failed to exhaust all available remedies” prior to seeking leave to commence judicial review.

It pointed to her decision not to participate in WT’s tribunal proceedings, as well as her decision not to utilise WT’s appeal process to challenge her suspension, as examples.

The recent setback notwithstanding, Wong has also filed a defamation suit against the STF, related to the announcements, which is understood will commence later in the year.

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