The Flawed Foreign Sports Talent Scheme

Disgraceful Foreign Sports Talent Scheme – A National Shame and Waste of Tax Payers’ Money

“Maybe people value my football abilities more across the Causeway than in my own Singapore.” Fandi Ahmad, former Lions star, who is joining the Johor FA team as adviser but holds out hope for a national job.

“We seem to be relying exclusively on foreign-born talent to rake in the medals while the local potential serve as sparring partners and ball pickers.” – Patrick Tan

“These people are opportunists. They have the notion that Singapore needs them more than they need Singapore.” -Jeffrey Law Lee Beng

It is ironic that a person who was born and bred here is unable to obtain citizenship, while others born and raised elsewhere have been granted citizenship” – Jeffrey Law

“中国人怎么了,我们在奥运­会上有金牌,我们有自己的卫星,我们能登上月球,我们很多的世界­第一。你们有什么??有本事不要花钱来买我们的运动员!” – Source

I want Singapore sports to do well at the international level with local-born sportsmen, with more funding, focus and effort to groom our young, aspiring sportsmen to greater heights.” – Jason Kho in “The S’pore I want to see in 2032

“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

“First, Singapore discovered that some so-called foreign talent was not really very talented. Second, there was the discovery that, in some cases, when a foreign chief executive officer (askmelah: or coach) was hired, he or she discriminated against Singaporeans when hiring staff  (players).” – Tommy Koh

[Updated 10 Jun 2014: A brainchild of STTA president Lee Bee Wah, the trust fund came about after Dr Lee’s conversation last month with paddler Isabelle Li at the 19-year-old’s graduation ceremony at Republic Polytechnic. Askmelah will like to give Lee Bee Wah where credit is due to her.  Local paddlers get S$1 million boost to their Olympic dreams]

Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of foreign-born sportsmen and sportswomen (many of which are China-born) that Singapore has “embraced”, sadly. The fault lies squarely with the officials and MCYS, not the foreign players.

The entire Table Tennis National Team are all (almost) filled by China Nationals in the last 10 years or more, depriving promising Singaporean players the chance to represent our own country. These players are recruited and paid handome salary to work full-time here, excluding other attractive benefits such as game bonuses and other benefits such as sponsored education. Nevermind all of them are now Singaporeans (it is a technical requirement in order to represent Singapore), there are obvious signs that they are still very far from being fully integrated. They still use their Hanyu Pinyin names, speak their native language (many hardly speak English which is a common language here, UPDATED 31Oct2012: Language proficiency a KPI for national table tennis players), all born in China (where is the multi-racial composition?) and many will likely to return and retire in China when they no longer able to represent Singapore. Even the coaches all come from China. How to encourage Patriotism with such flawed policy? It is time to put a stop to this nonsensical policy and stop squandering precious tax payers’ money.

the Whole National Table Tennis Team Are Staffed by China-Born Players

Singapore are often publicly critised by neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand for “employing foreign mercenaries” and implied that Singapore polluted a beautiful game such as SEA game and brought shames to the sports by winning medals at all cost. The Singapore policy makers must have forgotten that Sports is about inspire others and overcome one’s limitation, sportsmanship – it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, history has shown many sportsmen and sportswomen won people’s heart even if they lost the race or the competition. Wikipedia has defined Sportsmanship as expresses an aspiration or ethos that the activity will be enjoyed for its own sake, with proper consideration for fairness, ethics, respect, and a sense of fellowship with one’s competitors (vaiorus definitions on the internet have all emphased fair play and respect for opponents). Singapore has clearly failed in this respect with the foreign sports talent scheme.

singapore aren't much of a team without foreign players

31Jul2011 Malaysian fans on our naturalised players Source


When foreign-born athletes win trophies and bring glory to our country, we question their ‘Singaporeanness’ and we do not feel proud of their achievements. When they do not perform, we criticise their ability, send them home, and question the whole idea of the Foreign Sports Talent (FST) scheme. It is high time that the flawed foriegn talent scheme be scrapped once and for all. For those talented sports talents who geniuely want to be part of us, let’s welcome them with open arms and give them a passport once they prove themselves (a good example is Jing Hun Hong), but no special treatment please, let’s level the playing field for our own sportsmen and sportswomen. Let the genuine pride of winning returns and let sports unite all Singaporeans, regardless of colour, race and religion, like it once was. I miss the days of Fandi AhmadC Kunalan and Junie Sng, I have not had that pride for a long time since.

[ click here for Flawed Foreign Sports Talent scheme Part2 ]

 Why there isn’t a single native born Singaporean in this picture?

Source: ST 28 Jun 2012

Does he has any intention to stay in Singapore after his sports career is over?

Source: The Straits Times 20 Aug 2011

Other related links:

Is the PAP’s “foreign talent” sports policy giving Singapore negative publicity overseas?

Source:  July 31st, 2010

The PAP’s controversial “foreign talent” sports policy to import established sportsmen and women from other countries to represent Singapore in international competitions has drawn flak not only from Singaporeans, but from other countries as well.

During a Malaysian parliamentary session on 26 July 2010, Senator Datuk Nor Hayati Onn mooted the idea of recruiting “imports” from other countries like the PAP to represent Malaysia in sports.

Her suggestion was shot down by the Malaysian Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Senator Gan Ping Sieu who said doing so may create a “negative perception” on Malaysia.

“I’m not trying to accuse other countries of anything here, but take Singapore’s national table tennis squad for instance. All of the athletes are imported from China. If we follow the practice, it may give a negative perception towards our country,” Mr Gan said.

His remarks, which were not reported by the Singapore media, nevertheless caused a stir among Singapore netizens, many of whom agreed with him that the PAP is disgracing Singapore by “buying” medals using foreign imports instead of nurturing local talents.

What do you think of Mr Gan’s statement? Do you agree with him? Share your views here.

Olympic council wrong to deny S’pore-born paddlers SEA Games chance

Source: The Straits Times  Jul 26, 2011

THE Singapore National Olympic Council has got it wrong in its rift with the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) over SEA Games entries (‘Isabelle not in SEA Games list’; last Saturday).

Certainly, winning medals is important and the SEA Games are where Singapore can thrive in the medal haul.

And certainly, sending the country’s top three China-born players will virtually guarantee Singapore medals.

But will it improve their game or the standards of table tennis in Singapore?

Competing in the SEA Games will be a walk in the park for the likes of Feng Tianwei, Wang Yuegu and Li Jiawei.

Few in Asean can match them and the trio will certainly reap the financial benefits of the government scheme rewarding medal winners.

But what about the Singapore-born talent we have been trying to nurture?

If they cannot be exposed to competition at such a rudimentary level like the SEA Games, how will they improve and hold their own internationally?

The foreign talent scheme was mooted on the basis that foreign athletes would act as a catalyst to spur local talent. The aim was to enable local athletes to scale greater heights. Now, the aim seems to have shifted.

We seem to be relying exclusively on foreign-born talent to rake in the medals while the local potential serve as sparring partners and ball pickers.

I applaud STTA president Lee Bee Wah for her courage in doing what is right for Singapore table tennis, even if it means sacrificing a few medals.

We need more sports officials like her to do what is right rather than what is convenient. Let’s keep our three top players for major international competitions and let the juniors gain exposure in the SEA Games.

Patrick Tan

Askmelah’s note: I applaud Lee Bee Wah’s change of heart despite her earlier position:STTA president Lee Bee Wah had said: “It doesn’t mean that we should look at them [foreign-born table tennis players] differently because they’re not born and brought up in Singapore. The important thing is that they have embraced Singapore and want to be a part of it. And they wanted so badly to win a medal for our country. We should not be harping on where they are born. I hope mindsets change.”

[Updated 17 Nov 2011: Isabelle Li has done us proud and props should be given to Lee Bee Wah for finally do something right for the Singapore Sports development. A small step but a crucial one.]

Time to rethink Foreign Sports Talent scheme

Source: My Paper, Oct 17, 2008

I CANNOT understand the brouhaha over table-tennis team head coach Liu Guodong’s rejection of a new two-year deal offered by the Singapore Table Tennis Association, and paddler Li Jiawei’s engagement to a Chinese businessman.

Although both played a key role in helping Singapore win a silver at the Beijing Olympics, there were other factors, such as good training amenities, proper administration and the support of fans.

If they have decided not to stick with Singapore, despite having been well taken care of, there is nothing much the country can do.

Singapore must not allow them to hold the country ransom just because their services are now sought after elsewhere.

Pandering to their demands will cause unhappiness and impede the sport’s progress.

The various sports associations have been recruiting foreigners to improve the standards of their games under the Foreign Sports Talent scheme.

It saddens me to know that although these sportsmen and women are granted Singapore citizenship, along with other benefits, some have no qualms about leaving our country for good.

These people are opportunists. They have the notion that Singapore needs them more than they need Singapore.

It is time sports associations took stock of this sorry state of affairs.

Granting foreign athletes citizenship so that they can represent Singapore internationally is not a good option.

Mr Jeffrey Law Lee Beng

 Is the foreign talent scheme working?

Source: The Straits Times  March 9, 2008

THE behaviour of some athletes, like China-born thrower Dong Enxin who has gone AWOL, has given critics the chance to question the usefulness of the Foreign Sports Talent scheme.

THEY created history just two days before, emerging second to mighty China in the World Table Tennis Championships.
But when paddlers Li Jiawei, Wang Yuegu, Feng Tianwei, Yu Mengyu and Sun Beibei arrived at Changi Airport last Monday, only two Singapore Table Tennis Association officials and one player’s family members were present to receive them.

This, after the women – all foreign sports talent from China – had recorded the Republic’s best finish at the event.

The conspicuous absence of any fanfare has added more fuel to the already raging debate surrounding the Republic’s Foreign Sports Talent (FST) scheme.

Twice, over the past few weeks, the scheme – introduced in 1993 to fast-track promising foreign athletes for Singapore citizenship – was brought up in Parliament.

According to figures mentioned before the House, 54 foreign-born athletes have since become Singaporeans.

But only 37 of them are still in active training. Table tennis player Zhang Xueling, badminton’s Xiao Luxi – both from China – and Brazilian footballer Egmar Goncalves are among those who have packed up and returned to their native homelands.

The 30 per cent drop-out rate prompted Nominated MP Jessie Phua to say in Parliament on Wednesday: ‘It is certainly not a case of a few bad apples.

‘There are some real issues to be addressed.’

The reasons behind the implementation of the FST scheme were simple enough 15 years ago.

With Singapore’s small talent pool of less than five million and with so few citizens willing to commit to a life of pursuing sporting excellence, there was a need to look abroad for promising youngsters.

These foreign stars would not only bring success to the country, but also hopefully inspire young Singaporeans to follow in their footsteps.

Yet, today, it has turned out to be much more complicated.

With instances of these new Singaporeans returning to their native countries at their peak (table tennis’ Zhang), some even going AWOL (thrower Dong Enxin) and now the seemingly indifferent public sentiment to their successes, the spotlight is now more than just on medals.

Said SingaporeSailing president Low Teo Ping: ‘The most tangible measure of success would be the the number of gold medals won.’

But there are also the intangibles, he noted.

‘What’s important is also the legacy they leave behind, whether these stars can transfer their expertise and inspire our home-grown youngsters.’

Parliamentary Secretary (Community Development, Youth and Sports) Teo Ser Luck agreed, but added: ‘What is integral is that these athletes also help build the system, and be part of the sporting pipeline for Singapore.

‘They must essentially lift the standard of their respective sports.’

This week, Teo told Parliament that, in spite of the recent questions being asked of the scheme, it is here to stay.

But he told The Sunday Times that he is concerned that foreign talent has become the overwhelming majority in certain sports.

He said: ‘This is an issue. It’s also important that we do not become a trading hub, where one foreign athlete that leaves is replaced by another.’

Football Association of Singapore general secretary Steven Yeo is another who subscribes to the view.

Since 2002, the FAS has drafted eight foreign-born footballers into the national team.

But Yeo added that the long-term emphasis is still on Singapore-born footballers, saying: ‘The FST scheme should never be at the expense of local talent.’

Along with football, table tennis and badminton account for over 60 per cent of the 54 citizenships given out so far.

And neglecting the development of local talent has been something both table tennis and badminton have been accused of in the past.

Half of the 10-member badminton team that finished a best-ever third in the team event at last year’s World Junior Championships were foreign-born, for instance.

But this is set to change for table tennis, with the sport’s world body recently passing a rule that restricts paddlers from switching nationalities once they turn 21.

Yet, while the consensus is that the 15-year-old FST scheme needs fine-tuning, there is no denying that it has its merits.

Foreign talents have come closest to breaking the country’s Olympic medal drought, one which dates back to 1960 when Tan Howe Liang won a weightlifting silver.

Table tennis paddlers Jing Junhong (in 2000) and Li Jiawei (in 2004) were both a win shy of bagging a medal at the Olympics. They lost both their semi-finals and subsequent bronze-medal play-off matches in the singles.

At last December’s South-east Asia Games in Thailand, the foreign brigade contributed 34.9 per cent of Singapore’s 43 gold medals, even though they made up only 7.6 per cent of the 423-strong contingent.

In the 2002 Commonwealth Games, the four golds won in table tennis were down mostly to foreign talent.

Their golden performances have also rubbed off on the locals.

Shuttler Kendrick Lee, who became the first Singaporean in 24 years to reach the South-east Asia Games badminton final last year, is one who will readily credit Indonesia-born Ronald Susilo for his success.

Said the world No 21 shuttler of his teammate: ‘Ronald sets high standards, so the rest of us have a good gauge of what it takes to be a world-class player.’

The FST scheme has also allowed locals opportunities to compete on the world stage, alongside foreign talents.

Even officials who have had bad experiences dealing with foreign talents are of the opinion that the FST scheme still has a role to play.

The Singapore Athletic Association’s experience of bringing in eight China-born athletes has resulted in a well-documented waste of $1 million in funds.

Although three eventually became Singapore citizens, only thrower Zhang Guirong is in active training.

But SAA president Loh Lin Kok maintained that, with competition for sporting success so keen, it would be naive of Singapore not to do what other countries are also doing.

China-born athletes now represent European countries in table tennis and badminton, while African runners are a common sight in Middle East nations.

Said Loh: ‘Look at the big picture, if we don’t get them in, others will. We shouldn’t and won’t close the door totally. But we must use our bitter experience wisely, and fine-tune the system to decide who to give citizenships to.’

When asked how the scheme could be improved, sailing supremo Low said it was important to ‘establish the desired outcomes’.

He said: ‘If it’s to catalyse local development, then let’s be clear about that. Foreign athletes musn’t be brought here on an experimental basis, say I try five and hope three can be successful.’

Mr Teo acknowledged there was room for improvement, especially in efforts to integrate the FST athletes into society.

He said: ‘There should be a concerted effort by us to welcome them and show our support.

‘But athletes must also be willing to make the effort.

‘It always takes two hands to clap.’

Give native-born athletes a chance

Source: The Straits Times  Aug 2, 2011

THE Singapore National Olympic Council should rethink its policy and give native-born talent a chance to compete in the South-east Asia Games and other regional contests to gain experience and sharpen their skills (‘Isabelle not in SEA Games list’; July 23).

How else can we nurture native-born talent to represent and win for Singapore?

We should not always depend on foreign talent to win. We cannot have a mindset that native-born talent cannot be developed to succeed internationally.

Jeffrey Tan

Integration: Different strokes by imported sports talent

Source: The Straits Times  16 Jul 2012

MR ALBERT Tye (‘Wrong to insist athletes should speak only in English’; last Thursday) disagrees with Mr Patrick Tan’s view (‘New sports citizens then and now’; last Tuesday), arguing that it is all right for new sports citizens representing Singapore in the Olympics to speak only in Mandarin in public interviews, rather than in English.

National badminton players who are new citizens, like Xing Aiying and Fu Mingtian, exemplify the sterling efforts at integration.

Initially, Xing and Fu spoke in Mandarin when they were interviewed but learnt enough English subsequently to speak in the language when they were interviewed on television.

They did not speak the most fluent English then, but it was the effort they made that was heartwarming. They demonstrated a desire to be accepted and integrated; I am certain they are already better English speakers now.

The story of bemedalled national swimmer and record-breaker Tao Li is similar to her fellow China-born new sports citizens.

Today, she speaks Singapore-accented English, like a native Singaporean. Indonesian- born shuttler Ronald Susilo speaks like a true-blue Singaporean.

Mr Tye affirms that ‘the larger national aim is for a population that is effectively bilingual, not monolingual’.

Well, that is exactly the point: Even now, the China-born national table tennis players can speak only in Mandarin.

Perhaps, 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.

But we are seeing a virtually complete foreign-scouted team with little hint of native-born citizens making a genuine breakthrough.

How long will this continue? The national association should make urgent efforts to help its imported players integrate and embrace our local cultures and language.

Nothing demonstrates that more than to see them on television singing our National Anthem during the awards ceremonies.

George Low Ser Hui

 The Tao Li way to foreign sports talent

Source: My Paper,  Jan 7 2009

I AM a fervent follower of the local sports scene who strongly believes that the current Foreign Sports Talent (FST) Scheme needs some fine-tuning.

In sports such as table tennis and badminton, the respective associations field teams made up wholly of FSTs. In football, teams with a majority of FSTs are fielded.

Fielding such teams does not benefit local-born sportsmen and sportswomen. It also makes one wonder if sports associations are merely paying lip service to their claim that it is important to develop local talents.

Most FSTs were handpicked by Singapore sports associations when they had reached their teenage years or were older, when their sporting potential was quite obvious. Singapore is therefore accused by other countries of “buying success”, which gives little credence to the claim that Singapore “groomed them into champions”.

Sports associations are implementing the FST Scheme inappropriately. They should instead follow the examples set by the swimming and bowling associations – which select and groom only Singapore-born athletes – which do
not rely heavily on FSTs.

A 20-per-cent cap on the number of FSTs should also be implemented for all national teams.

The national women’s swim team, where Tao Li is the sole FST, is a prime example of how the scheme should work.

She serves as a guide and spur for local female swimmers. This thus fulfils an important aim of the scheme, which is to benefit local-born athletes.

That aside, Tao Li was brought to Singapore at a relatively young age, and has assimilated well into Singapore society.

Consequently, most citizens accept her as one of them. Sadly, the same cannot be said of many other FSTs. Bowling also deserves a note of praise. Despite not having any FSTs, world-champion bowlers like Remy Ong and, more recently, Jasmine Yeong-Nathan, have made their mark.

Mr Calvin Ng

A good year By Seah Chiang Nee

As fans savour Singapore’s best year in competitive sports, debate rages on about imported talent.

Extracted from  Jan 13, 2003

Some 18 months ago, even as the economy was turning downwards, the government launched a S$500mil programme to make Singapore one of the top 10 sporting nations in Asia. It also set up a Sports Ministry.

The money goes not only to developing facilities, importing foreign coaches, and sending promising Singaporeans for training abroad.

Central to it is a scheme to identify young foreign athletes and grant them citizenship so they can help to win championships. It involves mapping out a study-and-career programme.

Those selected include Chinese provincial school champions in table-tennis, badminton, basketball and field athletics and promising badminton and tennis stars from Indonesia.

Although theirs is traditionally a migration society, some Singaporeans do not want to see Singapore win sports medals in this manner.

“I’d rather see our resources spent developing our own home-grown talent,” said one sports fan.

There’s no pride in spotting and buying foreign talent, he said.

“What message are we sending out to our promising young sportsmen?” Yeo Eng Chin wrote in a local newspaper. “Work hard, play hard but take a back seat when it comes to international contest. Let the foreign imports do the job.”

More achievements appear to be on the way.

The next game that will benefit from the scheme is women’s basketball. Six China-born girls, aged between 14 and 15, are making an impact since their arrival two years ago.

Last month they were given permanent residency status. Their assignment this year: Win the South-East Asia Games in Vietnam in December.

Read the original article here.

Malaysia’s gain

Source: The Straits Times 17 Mar 2012

‘It is ironic that a person born and bred here is unable to obtain citizenship.’

MR JEFFREY LAW: ‘Skater Anja Chong’s desire to compete for Singapore, where she was born and raised, should be favourably considered for awarding citizenship (‘S’pore skating hope dons Malaysia colours’; Wednesday). This is especially so when we compare her to other less-deserving athletes who were granted citizenship to represent Singapore in football, table tennis, badminton and swimming. It is ironic that a person who was born and bred here is unable to obtain citizenship, while others born and raised elsewhere have been granted citizenship.’

Bad move, Egmar

New citizen under fire for decision to quit Singapore and return to Brazil
By Marc Lim

EGMAR GONCALVES did not do himself, the Football Association of Singapore and the Foreign Talent Scheme any favours when he announced that he will leave the Republic for good.

In an interview with Timesport last Friday, he said he intends to return to Brazil for good when his contract with S-League club Home United ends at the end of this year.

And chances are, he will surrender his Singapore passport.

It was only two years ago that the then-31-year-old striker was given Singapore citizenship in order to play football for the Lions.

Among those who voiced their disappointment was former national coach Jita Singh who, as technical director for Police FC (now renamed Home United) in 1995, talent-spotted Goncalves.

Said Jita: ‘There is no denying his commitment and dedication. But when you leave a country just two years after it had granted you citizenship, it’s not good.

‘He may have his reasons, but it makes the passport look cheap.’

Former international R. Suriamurthi added that the imminent departure will not help FAS’ push for foreign talent. But the association have only themselves to blame.

He said: ‘Egmar didn’t ask to be a Singaporean. The FAS approached him, so they must have known what they were doing, giving him citizenship at the age of 31.

‘He was a good player, but at 31, how long more can he play?

‘Now that he wants to go back, no one can blame him. He does not speak English well, so what can he do if he stays here?’

Goncalves, who reportedly earned more than $500,000 during his eight years in Singapore, has bought six homes in Brazil.

Which led Kok Wai Leong, team manager of S-League club Singapore Armed Forces FC to comment: ‘He can’t buy six homes in Singapore with $500,000, can he?

‘Basically, that sums it up. He knows where his wealth is and where his future will be taken care of.’

Goncalves may be the first player to score 100 S-League goals, but his strike rate for the national team was pathetic: three goals in 12 appearances.

Too old to play in the South-east Asia Games (now an U-23 tournament), he was drafted into the national team mainly for the 2002 Tiger Cup.

But he failed to score in all three preliminary-round matches and the Lions did not make the semi-finals.

Noh Alam Shah, who often had to play second fiddle to him in the national team, had mixed feelings.

Said the Tampines Rovers forward: ‘The good thing is I learnt a lot from him.

‘On the other hand, he was the player who took a striker’s spot in the national team.’