Flawed Foreign Sports Talent scheme Part2

– What has gone terribly wrong with Singapore importing “foreign talents” to win medals? (click here for part 1)

“One main reason for the bilingual inability is that the entire team comprises imported talent from China. No other sports team in Singapore is so glaringly lopsided. I am certain that when the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme was initiated in 1993, it was not meant to purvey an entire team of foreign imports.” – George Low Ser Hui

“To the average outside observer, Singapore might be perceived as a table tennis powerhouse that churns out world-class players year after year. This is obviously not the case.” – Jason Kho Yin Long

“The only disgusting image I see in the papers are those Ministers/MPs like Lee Bee Wah, Teo Chee Hean, Tony Tan smiling widely and waving the Singapore flag as if they have contributed to the success only to be back stabbed by Feng Tianwei throwing flowers at the mainland Chinese supporting her at the stadium.”TREmeritus

Importing talent to represent Singapore is cheating.”Min

“Sporting excellence is about striving to realize one’s potential and sportsmanship is about honesty. At the national level it translates into nurturing your people to achieve their full potential.” csmechtler

“I wouldn’t be surprised and upset if she returns to China. I don’t think the China-born players are proud to be Singaporeans anyway.” – Wu Junxiang

Mr James Oh (see below) hit the nail on the head when he pointed out why many Singaporeans feel indignant about scouting for these sports talents to win medals for Singapore using huge tax payers’ money, which I won’t repeat here.

flawed sports talent scheme part2As if to cover the Government’s booboo for wasting precious tax payers’ moneies (in Venture Capitalists’ lingo: it is called OPM, Other People’s Monies), the ensuing two days after winning the Olympic Bronze medal, many Government officials from the President, PM, Ministers and the innocent school girl who was interviewed on TV were all but praises in order to drum up support for the “embarrassing and awkward” win by “one of our own”. As if like all these propagandas are not enough, I counted not less than 4 advertisements in the Straits Times by various Government-linked companies such as SPH, Singtel, Mediacorp (what business has it to do with these companies?) and sponsors such as Samsung who took out expensive and prominent advertisement spaces “to congratulate” Feng Tianwei’s “historical” win. The sum of all these actions is real turn-off to put it mildly, if not revolting. The fact remains that:

Almost 8 in 10 not proud of medal won by foreign import: Yahoo! poll

Picture credit: Bernard TanA reader by the name of Bernard Tan wanted me to publish this captioned photo produced by him which may have summed up the feeling of a section of our citizens’ view on this “historical” win. As pointed out by James Oh, Singaporeans, by and large, do not treat foreign-born athletes who arrived under external circumstances, such as family reasons or marriages, and became citizens such as Mr Tan Howe Liang and we generally do not begrudge them their foreign roots. On the other hand, Ms Feng Tianwei and others in our table tennis team were scouted by the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) and invited to play for us by giving them the citizenships one year after coming to Singapore, is clearly not right. While people like Tan Howe Liang has become one of us and still here at the age of 70, I bet many of these sports mercenaries are here for the attractive salaries and perks and will most likely return to China or some western countries once their sports or coaching career is over.

The most damaging side effect of FTS is these foreign imports are depriving promising Singapore paddlers (where is the level playing field?) from representing our country by occupying, not one, not few,Source: The Straits Times 10 Aug12but entire representation without a single local born table tennis player to represent our own country. As if this is not enough, the entire team in the Men’s team are also imported from China now, many of them new faces which must have been recruited in the last two to three years. No matter what sugar coating STTA is trying to put up to brainwash the public, the truth of the matter is they have distorted the true intention of the Foreign Sports Talent (FTS) scheme, which is to leverage on these imports to raise the overall standard for our local players, NOT taking over all their places as is happening in the last ten years or more. STTA has failed Singapore misery and shamelessly indeed. The fault lies squarely with STTA and the Government, not the players themselves. No person with a sensible mind will turn down such attractive offers to play competitive sports, even at the expense of giving up his/her citizenship as long as (and I assume) “one’s conscience and love for the motherland is always with one’s heart” (see the cartoon below).

In the same page of The Straits Times report dated 8 Aug 2012, Minister Chan Chun Seng was quoted: “for those who’ve joined us, we hope they can inspire a new generation of young athlete and that to us is the most important thing.” He also said that Singapore is not going to just rely on foreign-born athletes for glory. And the joke was on him that in the commentary by Terrence Voon just below his quote, the reporter revealed just who these next generation of young athletes are and you have guessed it, another generation of new imports:  Liu Shiwen (22) and Sun Beibei (28). The reporter urged the STTA to groom local-born Isabelle Li (17) for the next Olympics. “We have a succession plan,” said the STTA chief Lee Bee Wah without revealing the details. If there was ever a plan, Askmelah has lost my trust in her and STTA, period.

Askmelah do not believe that Singapore can not produce a true Olympics medal of our own, it is the lack of political will and the preference to take shortcut approach at the very top of the Government and the Sports authority. With the ten of millions spent on FTS, a fraction of that will have produced a Olympic champion by now if we have actively identified and groomed the right talents (see below “Our children need coaches like Bowman”) over the last 20 years. I leave you with a touching story of a young man from a tiny island nation of Grenada who have brought home the first gold medal in the history of his country in the 2012 Olympic. Grenada, a tiny country of less than 105,000 people who has never won an Olympics medal before. Singapore has 5 million people now and people of all kinds of ethnicity, state of the art training facilities and tons of monies and we can not produce even an Olympic medalist of our own? That’s not the Singapore spirit that we all know for sure.

 “Of course it can happen; it can happen from anywhere.” – Kirani James of Grenada won the men’s 400 meters, making him his country’s first Olympian to win a medal 

“Singapore started as a fishing village. It was by no means a shortcut that we got to where we are today. – Jason Kho Yin Long

Related links:

[Updated 11Aug2012] In The Straits Times today titled “Less Govt, more people in sports“, Journalist Jeremy Au Yong commented that while Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei win united the nation of all political parties and races, Feng’s win seems to have divided opinions in Singapore sharply. He then offers a refreshing perspective on the contrast: the involvement of the State and its political undertone. “Sports ambition in Singapore appear to be very much a Government-led (Askmelah: more precisely Politicians-led, Government officials need not have to be politicians.) initiative, with Government doing much of the heavy lifting.” With Sports associations tends to be headed by MPs (and other politicians), it may be best if the politicians should be less involved in Sports so that Sports can be used as a tool for uniting a nation instead of dividing the nation. 

If Feng wants to be accepted by Singaporeans (the big question is IF), Briton Olympics Gold Medlaist Mohamed Farah may be her best role model. He is a Somali-born muslim and went to London as a young boy. When journlaists wanted to know whether he is made of ‘real” British ‘stock”, here is his answer in his chirpy London accent :” Look mate, this is my country and when I put my Great Britain vest, I’m proud, very proud.” Feng, and likewise for other FTs, lose that PRC accent, learn to speak Singlish, and give back to her adopted country and proved the critics wrong that she is not a mercenary. (A similar view using a German example can be found here.)

Source: ST 13 Aug 2012

Issue is scouting practice, not nationality

From James Oh

Source: Todayonline  7 Aug 2012

In this debate on foreign-born athletes, the issue is not where they hailed from, how well they have integrated in our society or how much they wanted to win for Singapore.

It is how they ended up representing our country or, specifically, the practice of scouting for foreign players.

We have had foreign-born athletes who arrived under external circumstances, such as family reasons or studies, and became citizens. This includes Mr Tan Howe Liang and Mr Ronald Susilo.

Globally, French football great Zinedine Zidane is an example.

We should never begrudge them their foreign roots. On the other hand, Ms Feng Tianwei and others in our table tennis team were scouted by the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) and invited to play for us. I question the motive for this.

Was it to enrich and help develop the local scene? This is hardly convincing, with not a single local-born player in the team since the last Olympics. One could hardly fault those who view this as a shortcut to success.

In our excitement and delight at winning medals, are we unwittingly encouraging our sports associations to seek further success through these means? While it is true that we are not the only country doing this, is it the right way?

We do not want the scenario in European club football where scouts travel the world in search of young talent.

It becomes an arms race of who can spot the next Michael Phelps and offer the biggest carrot. It may be valid for club football but is not in the Olympic spirit.

Ms Feng unquestionably deserves the accolades for her hard work and dedication.

But the STTA must tell us how they see this going forward, for the issue will come up at every Olympics

An extract from “Talk Cock Until Cannot Tahan

“On Feng seemingly throwing her bouquet to the Chinese contingent, on which the mainstream media has been conspicuously taciturn, I can give her the benefit of the doubt that it was towards off-screen Singaporean fans. But even if it were really at the Chinese fans, how could I blame her for not forgetting her former countrymen? Actually, we could all do much to learn from her in this respect, if so.”

The great mysteries of life
(Source: Demon-cratic Singapore)

Process over product – we must get priorities right

From Jason Kho Yin Long

To the average outside observer, Singapore might be perceived as a table tennis powerhouse that churns out world-class players year after year. This is obviously not the case.

I take no issue with the paddlers themselves, and I congratulate them on their Olympic success.

However, by importing established sportsmen and having them represent us on a world stage, we are telling the world that our country takes shortcuts and lives by the axiom “it doesn’t matter how it gets done, as long as it gets done”.

The argument that Singapore is not the only one doing it is moot. It matters not if a sports talent is born locally or not. It matters that he or she established him or herself training here, barring overseas training stints. Mr Tan Howe Liang emigrated here with his family at age four and won the Olympic silver medal at 27.

It takes years of hard work, thousands of hours of training, to be world class. With the current practice of importing sportsmen, the experience of producing a world-class athlete is lost.

If the sportsmen were brought in to train up our budding local pool, it has yet to show fruition since the Rainbow Scheme (now the Foreign Sports Talent scheme) began in 1993.

If they are here only to put Singapore on the medal tally board, then “mission accomplished”.

However, I feel indifferent about the medals because this only shows that we did well in talent recruitment, not development. No disrespect to our medal-winning Olympians, but I cannot identify with the principle behind their achievements.

Singapore needs sustainable plans and solutions for its future survival. The Foreign Sports Talent scheme is but one of many quick fixes commonplace in recent years.

Other examples include increasing immigration rather than focusing on the causes of our declining birth rates, and reactively beefing up the number of healthcare professionals from overseas instead of planning earlier for the not so unforeseeable shortfall.

Singapore started as a fishing village. It was by no means a shortcut that we got to where we are today.

[Askmelah’s note: it is an urban myth that modern Singapore was founded from a fishing village. Its life should start from the Independence Day in 1965. No doubt that we were plagued with all kinds of problems but we were not a fishing village then, far from it, it has a second highest per capita income after Japan. Read more here.]

“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.”

Singapore knew how to fish, but it seems now like we just buy the fish. I believe there is more to the Singapore spirit than this.

An extract from a reader (csmechtler)‘s comment on

Criticise Feng Tianwei? But what makes a Singaporean?

“To come in late in the day with imported talent and claim they are British success stories isn’t about being open to migrants. It’s just cheating. Nobody watching will be fooled. If they get medals, we’ll feel a little embarrassed. Whether it’s swimming or anything else, let’s have a sporting culture strong enough for us to know, when we win, that it’s a real, homegrown achievement, not a fiddle. Otherwise, frankly, I’d rather we lost.” –  Jackie Ashley , The Guardian, ‘Importing Olympic athletes isn’t going to fool anybody’

The above was written by a British journalist when the British sports councils were considering importing athletes to boost its medal winning hopes in the 2012 Olympics. She concluded that there was “no alternative to serious investments” in home grown sporting talents.

Why do we so desperately need to win an Olympics medal? To validate us as a first-world country, or for the officials at the Olympics to bask in reflected glory? I for one couldn’t care less if Singapore never ever wins an Olympic medal until we do the right things to support our aspiring athletes.  As Lucky Tan says, “the pride in winning an Olympic medal does not come from the winning alone but what the win represents”

On the subject of inspiration, let me say that importing foreigners to win one or two medals ain’t gonna “inspire” our locals to suddenly win medals cos nothing in our environment would’ve changed for the local athlete. He’s not given the support to focus 100% on achieving sporting excellence, unlike these foreign imports; he has to juggle job/study and – National Service! http://www.straitstimes.com/premium/forum-letters/story/singapore-sports-weakling-because-lack-will-not-size

But nurture our own people? That’s just unthinkable. Even at the school level we are no longer developing our students. http://www.tremeritus.com/2012/08/03/sg-primary-schools-take-in-prc-kids-to-win-medals-in-table-tennis/
We expect parents to spend money on coaching for their children and, only when they have become good enough to potentially win medals will they be allowed to join the schools’ sports club.

Our systems (sports, education, labour) no longer nurture our citizens, we merely use them or shove them aside.

Another perfect example is population that you mention. The TFR is low because of a myriad of societal pressures including lack of job security, employer abuse resulting in lack of work-life balance, high costs of living, even higher costs of housing, pressure-cooker educational environment, reduced educational opportunities due either to financial circumstances or government quotas, unfair competition from foreign workers, etc etc. Instead of taking the requisite tough actions to right years of misguided policy (no lesser authorities have spoken on these than Ngiam Tong Dow  and Yeoh Lam Keong http://www.vagsg.com/forums/showthread.php?t=68825), we again take the easy way out by sweeping the issues under the carpet and (guess what?) import to “solve” the problem!!”

Our children need coaches like Bowman

From Lynette Tan
Source: todayonline  Aug 15, 2012

To me, one man stood out at the Olympics: Coach Bob Bowman, who took swimmer Michael Phelps under his wing when the latter was only 11 years old, a child of recently divorced parents then, and has stood with him since.

Mr Bowman nurtured him, believed in him and helped this child diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder to become the most decorated Olympian of all time.

The coach was there to guide his swimmer in an authentic relationship, not just in swimming but also in life.

This is how we, as parents or educators, should be to our children, or charges, for them to reach their potential.

Even with any learning difficulties or upsets along the way, rather than give up, we should allow them to grow.

It is never too late to do it. Mr Bowman did it for a pre-teen child who was not his own. We can do it, too.