Dragon Boat Racing, Booming in Popularity, Confronts Abuse Case

For the final three many years, dragon boat racing has surged in recognition world wide. Former rowers have switched to paddling and represented their nations in worldwide races. Corporate and authorities workers have participated in group races. Young Asian Americans, buoyed by cultural delight, have dominated some rosters, particularly in New York.

But that was earlier than a case involving Randy Ng, a distinguished coach, upended the game.

Ng, 38, was the longtime face of DCH Racing, the largest and most profitable newbie crew in New York City, and a U.S. nationwide crew coach. He was arrested in October 2019 on fees that he abused 5 feminine crew members, two of them minors. By January 2020, as he sat alone in a preliminary listening to in Queens felony court docket, he had been relieved of his teaching duties.

Fast ahead to the following listening to, in June 2021. The case was unexpectedly dismissed. Then, in early August, Queens prosecutors filed plans to enchantment the dismissal.

As issues stand, Ng will not be charged with any crime. When reached by telephone, he mentioned, “I’ll have to get back to you.” He didn’t return follow-up messages.

But the persevering with controversy has discombobulated the tight-knit dragon boat world, dividing those that consider that Ng needs to be given the advantage of the doubt and those that say that security requirements have been an afterthought.

The dragon boat racing coach Randy Ng in 2012.Credit…Liz Rhoades/The Queens Chronicle

The case additionally magnifies how fast-growing area of interest sports activities exterior the purview of watchdogs just like the U.S. Center for SafeSport are reckoning with abuse allegations. For all its recognition, dragon boat racing, which is run principally by volunteers, didn’t have a transparent code of conduct or avenues for reporting ethics complaints till just a few years in the past.

“In this era of the #MeToo movement and girls and women willing to speak up, it is a good time to reset,” mentioned Allen Huang, who was a member of a number of New York groups, together with Ng’s, earlier than beginning a profitable crew together with his spouse in Boston 5 years in the past. “We have to assume that Randy is innocent until proven otherwise. But it doesn’t hurt for the coaching staff to establish policies and ways to better coach the youth.”

With groups returning to the water even because the Delta variant helps delay the coronavirus pandemic, lovers hope dragon boat racing, with practically 50 million members in China and Hong Kong and one other 390,000 in Europe and the Americas, can transcend its standing as an Olympic demonstration sport in Tokyo.

Officials with the United States Dragon Boat Federation, the game’s nationwide governing physique, declined to be interviewed. But in late 2019, the federation’s lawyer did inform a former member of Ng’s racing crew who had emailed her particulars of Ng’s arrest that the federation “is looking into this matter.”

The present leaders of DCH Racing, which is operated by a nonprofit group, didn’t return requests for remark. But Brian Lam, group vp of Lithia Motors, the guardian firm of the crew’s longtime sponsor, DCH Auto Group, mentioned he discovered the allegations troubling. He instructed crew leaders that future funding would hinge on arising with written protocols “to make sure allegations are taken seriously, and people feel comfortable enough to come to them with issues.”

Lam mentioned he would personally work with the crew — which has lengthy celebrated Chinese tradition and mentored youths — to do higher.

“We can take a look at almost a personal conduct type deal, like Deshaun Watson,” he mentioned.

In July, racers educated for the 2021 Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in Flushing, Queens.Credit…Amr Alfiky for The New York Times

Vinoo P. Varghese, Ng’s lawyer, mentioned it was unlikely Ng would return to DCH.

“He was treated terribly by some of the dragon boat people,” Varghese mentioned. “It hurt him. I don’t think he wants anything to do with dragon boat racing going forward, or at least the current organization as it stands.”

Organized dragon boat racing, which traces its roots 2,000 years to China, gained worldwide traction in the 1980s because the brainchild of tourism officers in Hong Kong. (As a reporter for The Associated Press in Hong Kong in the 1990s, I lined a global race which included groups from Indonesia, Vancouver, Philadelphia and San Diego.)

The International Dragon Boat Federation’s first world championship, in 1995, attracted 820 athletes from 14 nations. The most up-to-date championship, in Thailand in 2019, welcomed greater than three,300 athletes from 30 nations. In 2009, the International Olympic Committee invited the group to hunt official recognition.

Adorned with dragon heads and tails, massive boats sometimes maintain 20 individuals — 18 paddlers, one steerer and one drummer, who units the rhythm for the strokes, like a coxswain. The wood-and-plastic boats weigh about 400 kilos, in distinction to the 1,400-pound handmade teak ones first used in competitions, mentioned Bob McNamara, a dragon boat coach primarily based in Philadelphia, whose day job is chair of the division of emergency medication at Temple University.

The sport initially attracted rowers, principally males. Now there are males’s, girls’s, combined gender and junior groups, and groups from all demographic and athletic backgrounds, racing from 200 to 2,000 meters. The sport has been rising in Texas and Florida, McNamara mentioned, alongside established hubs in British Columbia, Ontario, California and New York.

Founded in 1993, DCH is one among a number of aggressive, year-round groups with berths on the World’s Fair Marina behind Citi Field. Ng helped forge DCH’s popularity as an intense, fiercely loyal household, practising 4 days every week in the water and sweating numerous hours in its personal health club, nicknamed the Dungeon. With roughly 160 lively paddlers, the crew has received or positioned excessive in main races world wide, and catapulted quite a few paddlers to nationwide groups.

A crew practiced in Flushing in July. Ng’s DCH crew was notably absent.Credit…Amr Alfiky for The New York Times

Ng was so centered on DCH that he requested paddlers to not be part of different groups, and even attend out-of-state faculties, former crew members mentioned.

Jacky Kwan, a former captain of DCH’s junior crew, recalled being enthusiastic about when he was accepted to West Point. But Ng was upset.

“Randy said you’re being really selfish by accepting this,” recalled Kwan, who just lately left the Army and now works in robotics. “Everything to him is very binary — either you’re with me or you’re against me.”

Ng is a Stony Brook University graduate who has labored as a management growth advisor, amongst different jobs, in line with a LinkedIn profile, now defunct. Until he was arrested, he had been a board member of the Guardians of Flushing Bay, an environmental nonprofit based by dragon boat groups and group organizations.

Ng rose to prominence teaching DCH’s junior groups. The black sweatshirts he equipped to his junior athletes, embroidered with the DCH emblem on the again and an athlete’s title in script on the entrance, grew to become a badge of ethnic delight and athletic prowess at some excessive faculties, notably Brooklyn Tech.

DCH honored Ng in 2017 with a shock video tribute that includes dozens of athletes. Some famous his fun-loving, prankster nature and his consolation with hanging out with individuals 15 to 20 years youthful.

But in line with dozens of present and former members, and court docket paperwork, Ng was benefiting from his place to abuse a number of the paddlers. The fees in opposition to him included forcible touching, sexual abuse, endangering the welfare of a kid and harassment, going again to 2014. Some of the alleged incidents befell at a DCH health club.

At a January 2020 listening to, prosecutors with the Queens district legal professional’s workplace mentioned in open court docket a conditional plea deal in which Ng would take part in a intercourse offender program, with a full order of safety for the alleged victims. Ng didn’t take the provide. But scheduling the following court docket date was tough as a result of some accusers had been out-of-state college students.

The DCH crew took half in the 2015 Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival.Credit…Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket through Getty Images

One alleged sufferer, reached by The New York Times, declined to debate the case in element. But she mentioned she remained shaken.

“Now that I think about it, it’s not right — he kept complimenting me, he kept showering me with praise,” mentioned the lady, who was a highschool pupil on the time. “At the same time, he was opening a lot of opportunities for me. He bought me a paddle for my birthday.”

But then the pandemic intervened, and a decide dismissed the case this yr at a quick listening to in June, held nearly, with out providing a proof.

“I had to keep refreshing the website with all the charges,” the lady reached by The Times mentioned. “Me and the other girls are disappointed because he got no repercussions. That was heartbreaking to hear.”

Varghese, Ng’s lawyer, mentioned Ng was relieved.

“He was blindsided when the police showed up at his door,” he mentioned. “Being accused of something like this took its toll on him, emotionally, as well as on his wife. But justice was served. He’s an innocent man from a legal perspective. It’s as if it never happened.”

But then the Queens district legal professional’s workplace filed a discover to enchantment on Aug. 6. The workplace declined to remark, citing the persevering with case.

Ng’s scenario stays uncomfortable for a lot of.

That was evident at a weekend apply weeks in the past in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, as groups sponsored by Northwell Health, New York Community Bank, HSBC and different organizations ready for the return of the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in New York in early August.

While the occasion aimed to advertise vaccination, reopen small companies and deal with anti-Asian hate crimes, nearly everybody was conscious of Ng’s case. After all, DCH was a notable no-show this yr.

“DCH has been a good contributor to the sport, but dragon boat is like everything — anything could happen,” mentioned Henry Wan, the competition’s longtime chairman. “I don’t have firsthand knowledge on this #MeToo thing. But to me, it’s a given — everybody has to follow the rules.”