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Grappling with his biggest move

Singapore's Ng Ser Miang ponders bid to become the first Asian IOC president. -ST
May Chen

Wed, May 01, 2013
The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - A HIGH school gymnasium, in Santa Clara, California, sweat thick in the air. A scrawny Singaporean teenager no heavier than 50kg steps up to the wrestling mat for the first time.

His introduction to the sport is not helped by the fact that his classmate is nearly twice his size.

But it matters little. Tussling with bigger boys is not something Ng Ser Miang, then on an exchange programme, would shy away from.

Fifty years on, Ng, Singapore's only International Olympic Committee (IOC) member, is set to take on the big boys again.

Over the next month, the IOC and Singapore National Olympic Council vice-president will decide whether to go up against bigwigs from Europe and South America for the post of IOC president - the highest office in global sport.

Despite being named by observers as a front runner for the seat that Belgian Jacques Rogge will vacate at the 125th IOC Session in Buenos Aires in September, Ng remains coy about his intentions.

"There are still a few more big meetings to go (before the June deadline for announcing candidacy)," he said when The Straits Times met him at his Camden Park bungalow earlier this month.

"There will be more opportunities until then for me to consult my colleagues."

History hinges on his decision.

No Asian has ever occupied that office. In fact, apart from American Avery Brundage who assumed the presidency from 1952 to 1972, the IOC has always been led by a European.

Currently, the IOC membership consists of 43 Europeans, 23 Asians, 18 from the Americas, 12 from Africa and five from Oceania.

But Ng has always been a man for challenges. As a businessman, he took on the floundering Singapore Shuttle Bus company in 1976 and transformed it into the successful Tibs, which was later sold to SMRT. He now chairs NTUC FairPrice and is also a director of Singapore Press Holdings.

In sport, the former SingaporeSailing chief and Singapore Sports Council chairman was the first man from ASEAN to run for one of the four IOC vice-presidents posts in 2009.

He also spearheaded Singapore's successful staging of the inaugural Youth Olympics in 2010.

"I'm a very competitive person," said the former national sailor. "I want to make sure that every job I handle ends up well."

"Even as an athlete, once you go into competition, you are there to win," added the 1969 Seap Games silver medallist, whose four-year term as IOC first vice-president will also end in September.

Should he decide to run for president, Ng will likely have to contend with long-time IOC colleagues such as Germany's Thomas Bach and Puerto Rico's Richard Carrion for the votes of the IOC's 101 members.

The new president will be decided via a secret ballot, by the majority of the votes cast.

Should he win, what awaits him as the leader of the influential organisation will be unchartered territory - even for someone who has been involved with sport for almost half a century now.

But what he has no question about is this: Sport shapes young people. And for him they should always be at the centre of the Olympic movement.

"I went through being the father of an athlete," said Ng, whose three children with late wife Ko Ai Choo all sail and ski. His elder daughter, Xuan Hui, now 36, is a SEA Games sailing champion. She won the 1991 Optimist gold and 1993 women's 420 title.

"I saw them develop through sports and beyond school education. When you work with the youth, you feel motivated by their enthusiasm and what they learn from the process."

It is this drive that has seen him through tireless travels around the world on sport-related business.

Case in point: Ng left for China days after this interview and within the month will also fly to South America, Europe, Africa, then to the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland before journeying home to Singapore.

It is the third time in recent months that he has gone around the world.

He said: "I believe that when you have the energy and the capability, you should try to do as much as you can.

"Not so much for personal benefit, but so you can add value to things. I've gone past that phase where ego is important."

Therein lies the man who labels himself a "restless" 64-year-old who still wants "to achieve every day".

Should Ng's name be tossed into the ring come June, he will find himself up against convention, against tradition and against history.

No matter.

It did not deter him 50 years ago, it will not now.

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