Singapore Athletics Race to the SEA Games
The Singapore Athletics Team at the Kallang Practice Track, with Yazeen Buhari (8th from the right).
TSL speaks to Yazeen Buhari, General Manager of Singapore Athletics (SA) about the current state of athletics in Singapore and its future bearing.
Share more about yourself with us and your thoughts about sports.
I am 36, married to my greatest supporter, and biggest critic, Shahiraa (a year younger) who is a Psychology lecturer at Temasek Polytechnic. We are proud parents to our 20-month old daughter, Hanna Sanikaa whose presence has provided us with a whole new meaning to the word “blessed”!
I joined Sport Singapore in 2008 and was then part of the Business Analysis team there. Eventually, I was given the opportunity to lead a team of Sport Development Managers in the National Sports Associations (NSA) Partnership department where we oversaw overall sports development plans and support mechanisms for the respective NSAs and their athletes. After which in August 2014, I was seconded to Singapore Athletics as General Manager.
Sports has always played a critical role in my life. Beyond playing and participating in sporting activities, sports has afforded me with valuable opportunities to enhance and develop further my interpersonal capabilities.
I’ve always been passionate about sports since young. Football is a sport that I absolutely love and that passion translated into an embodiment of oneness with the sport when I became a FIFA-certified international soccer referee. Though I’ve retired from active duty since 2013, I am currently still serving as a Referee Assessor for Singapore’s professional league (S-League) and I am also a member of the Referees Board sub-committee.
Nowadays, I cycle on weekdays, often at night as I love the calmness of the night and the sight of our city-skyline. I continue to feed my footballing passion with my usual futsal and friendly games every week, and with the wife and my daughter, we do a variety of activities, like swimming and park walking. In fact, my wife and daughter participated in the Venus Run last weekend and it was awesome experience to have them join me in the run.
Singapore Athletics has recently embarked on a transformative phase in – do share with us what are some of the biggest challenges you have faced as General Manager?
When the opportunity came knocking sometime last year to partner SA, I was glad that I said yes. I was excited by the prospects of being able to make a positive difference with the NSA, but more than that, I wanted to be part of a passionate group of sports administrators dealing with some of the most technically savvy and ardent group of athletes and coaches. Hence I took a leap of faith, and have never looked back.
When I proposed to my Executive Committee to kick-start a re-branding exercise for SA, I did it with the objective of wanting to close the gap between the organisation’s current direction and its aspiration and ambitions. I am in the opinion that SA can propel even higher as an organisation, hence the reason for this transformation journey where systems thinking are put in place, and every stakeholder involved subscribes to the vision that we aspire to achieve.
The changes that we institutionalised did meet some resistance but my team and I were constantly communicating our intentions, policies and directions through dialogues and stakeholder engagement sessions. I am proud to say that my team were very sanguine in their deliberation, honest and sincere in their interaction, listening to every feedback, suggestion and advice we received throughout the entire engagement period.
What are some of the capability development initiatives you have implemented for the organisation e.g. sponsorship, better HR policies, focus on accountability and/or governance etc.
One of first tasks I took on was to uplift the energy in the office, with a keen interest in wanting to recognise the efforts and commitment of the staff in SA. Proper HR and Training Development plans were put in place with mechanism to reward staff's work as a motivator for further self-improvement. We also put in place, together with SA's Vice President (Finance), stringent procedures to further improve financial governance and procedures. In January 2015, SA managed to resolve all audit improvement areas within 6 months of the organisation been audited.
By the time that this article will be published, you will have had the 77th Singapore Open Track & Field Championships 2015 at the National Stadium. How important are test events to an organisation like SA? What are some of the lessons you intend to learn from the event?
The Singapore Open is not merely an operations-centric test event for SA. It is also a chance for us to market and promote track & field to the public.
While we worked together as a team to iron out the many issues we would be facing during the course of the event, this experience will come in very handy when the SEA Games kicks off in June. Together with our partners at Sports Hub and Sport Singapore, we will get to learn valuable insights on what to tweak and resolve.
Knowledge management and retention wise, I am pleased to inform that each and every one of the organising committee, including my energetic staff, know very well the holistic objective and deliverable. Hence, it was almost like an interchangeable unit where we had little problems covering for one another during the entire phase from planning to execution.
Singapore Athletics, with Luis Cunha (Head Coach for Sprints and Hurdles) ready to run and Yazeen (4th from right) in more formal wear.
How is the athletics team faring with Luis Cunha as the new Head Coach for sprints and hurdles?
Coach Luis has been a joy to work with. His enthusiasm rubs off on the athletes and he is very meticulous in the way he observes the athletes and puts in place new recommendations to improve their track performances. Just take a look at Dipna who broke her national record in Sydney in mid-March. She mentioned that Luis gave her pointers to change her style and it worked out really well. When we started the search for a Head Coach back in October 2014, we wanted a "polisher" who can help shave the milliseconds off the timings of our sprinters and that was exactly what we got from Luis.
The launch of the 'Home of Athletics' on 14 March 2015 was well received and everyone can now have a place they call home. As a team, the Singapore Athletics family has never been more bonded. The athletes know they have a duty to represent the nation well come June and everyone is doing their part to make it happen. We as the support staff are also doing all we can to ensure they have the platform to perform to the best of their abilities. God willing, it will all come together in June!
What are your thoughts about the sporting infrastructure in Singapore with regards to Athletics?
We are looking good in my opinion. Every day is a chance to better what we did yesterday. We have and will continue to piece the jigsaw puzzle together - one piece at a time. With the launch of the refurbished Home of Athletics to the appointment of Coach Luis, you can see that it is all coming together. In the coming months, we will be recruiting a Technical Director who will come in and work hand in hand with the technical staff and Coach Luis to enhance training methods and routines for our athletes. As I like to say, the only easy day was yesterday. We will get there, but only if we do it as a team. And that team includes all stakeholders, including our key partner, Sport Singapore and its many staff who have supported us immensely since we started this transformation journey.
Lastly, what are your personal aspirations for athletics at the coming SEA Games?
The 28th SEA Games on home soil, coming in a year where our nation celebrates its 50th birthday, will be extra special. Not just for athletes and officials, but also for sports enthusiasts, fans and everyone who will be involved in one way or another.
Personally to me, there lies an opportunity for the athletics use the Games as a leverage to compete at the new National Stadium. The organisational parameters of a Track & Field competition has grown creatively, and spectators and athletes are in for a show time never seen before! Our national athletes are training hard, and the sacrifices they’ve undertaken is simply phenomenal. Let us roar together with them, because every shout, every banner, every rally, every Singapore flag unfurled will matter to our athletes, helping them make a difference during competition time. #OneTeamSG