Medals for Money: When we won 2 medals

The recent London Olympics is only the third Olympics I actually remember. I remember following Li Jiawei’s progress in 2004 as she lost out on a medal, much to my sadness. I remember the record-breaking fest in both the pool and on the track as Phelps and Bolt dominated each respectively. And this Olympics,  I remember it too for a few reasons.

This was the first Olympics that actually inspired me, and made me want to try for the Olympics myself. I know it sounds stupid since I’m already 18 and everyone else has a huge head start blah blah, but still, I remain inspired. And that’s fully due to one Helen Glover who, in a nutshell, trained for only 4 years in an entirely new sport and now sports an Olympic Gold Medal.


She’s holding something Singapore spent millions to try and buy.

I mean, sure Bolt and Phelps did their thing (again), Pistorius made history for the disabled, the Men’s team archery final was unbelievably dramatic and so on, but this just beats them all in my opinion. But after all the marveling, I got to thinking, how likely would this be in Singapore? And why do I not even give a shit that Singapore came back with 2 medals this Olympics?

So, I will also remember this Olympics for another reason: When we won 2 medals, it was then that I realised that Singapore’s sporting policy has failed miserably.

Let’s set some context. The table-tennis team played well and deserve all the credit and glory. This post does not seek to undermine their victory nor their efforts, but seeks to explore why their efforts and their glory means nothing to you, me and probably the rest of Singapore, and why our sporting policy has failed.

Firstly, I’d like to look at a few arguments that have been put across by those who argue that the medals do mean something to you and me.

1. They have trained in Singapore, and it is actually here where they improved. They moved up the world rankings after they came to Singapore. So actually, it is the efforts of Singapore’s training that has allowed us to win the medals. Hence, the glory is ours!

No doubt their rankings have improved, but what exactly has Singapore done for these women, apart from giving them lodging, money and opportunities to play? I quote:

At one stage, we used up the funding from the Singapore Sports Council.

But we forked out over $100,000 from our own pocket to send them for overseas tournaments.

In that way, they can maintain their world ranking and at the same time pit themselves against the best in the world.


So, they obviously surpass the local talent pool so much that they have to exhaust more funds than provided just to get proper training overseas. That means Singapore doesn’t provide proper training for them. And even if you want to talk about coaches, their coach Jing Jun Hong is from Shanghai, and was a first generation Foreign Sports Talent Scheme player. So really, what has Singapore, in terms of the ordinary you and me, really done for them, such that we can claim their medals for our nation?

2. Other countries do it too and they don’t complain. Singaporeans are really so bloody ungrateful to these talents who have won glory for us. We should feel proud!

I’ve seen, on Facebook, a picture which shows how mainland Chinese are representing the table-tennis teams of numerous countries, and apparently, the Chinese represent 23 different countries in Table-Tennis. I’ve also seen the argument above attached to these photos. But really, such an argument is flawed, and yet strangely familiar in the habit of our beloved PAP (and their supporters) to compare apples with socks (I think this is the common saying).

Firstly, just because someone does something, doesn’t mean it’s the best thing to do. Anyone who’s had a sarcastic teacher or parent would have heard that saying a thousand times. If your friends all started stripping naked and dancing in Orchard Road, should you follow suit? No, you get new friends who do normal stuff that doesn’t involve public nudity. So the argument that “its okay to import players because your neighbours are doing it too” is just wrong, and frankly, stupid.

Secondly (and this comes from something my dad said), the argument compares oranges to a street lamp, in that the circumstances are entirely different.

Singapore imports the players; We go to China. We go down the list of players. We promise them candy if they play for our nation, except instead of candy, we promise them shitloads of cash. So they come down, change their nationality, pretend to be Singaporean and start playing Table-Tennis. What we do is essentially a business transaction.

But what happens in the other countries that also feature the Chinese is not a business transaction. These Chinese players are the ones who move over. They choose to adopt their nationalities. They choose to play there.

If you don’t believe me, look at Lin Gui who plays for Brazil. She moved to Brazil at age 12 alone, played there, and eventually earned her way into the national squad. If you still don’t believe me, Ni Xialan  is another Chinese-born player who moved to Luxembourg out of her own free will, married a local, and then represented the country with her husband as her coach.

Nowhere, and I repeat, nowhere else does any country import sporting talents to play our sports for them. Singapore is sadly, the only country who has perverted the idea of sports into a business, the only country who cares more about medals than athletes, and the only country that actually thinks it’s smart for doing so, not realising that every other country laughs at us for outsourcing sports.

Which makes this statement by Lee Bee Wah (someone I have absolutely no respect for, and think is a misguided idiot) all the more ironic:

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.

Maybe she forgot the part where she actually paid them to “embrace Singapore”.

So tell me again, why should we be proud of the 2 medals? When our table-tennis team achieves, I don’t feel anything because to me, they have simply fulfilled their end of the bargain – Medals for money.

What pisses me off about sports in Singapore is that we have taken our obsession for rankings and prizes and transplanted them to sports, where they have no place to be in. Our policy-makers have a seriously misguided idea of what sports should be about, and they even seem to have no idea what the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme (FSTS) is about.

It’s inception was meant to “boost local sporting standards by importing sporting expertise.” And yet, 2 generations of FSTS players later, we have stillnot yet seen a local Table-Tennis player and we are nurturing a third batch. Even more laughably, the scheme is lauded as a success because of the yield of 2 medals.

But hey hey guess what, that wasn’t what the scheme was for. The scheme has failed to nurture local talents, the scheme has in fact replaced local talent with foreign ones and the scheme has placed an insurmountable obstacle in front of any local wishing to represent his country. I mean, these people fly overseas just to be challenged during training. How the hell does a local without all these beat them and take their place to represent his/her home country? 

Does anyone else not find it ridiculous that our locals cannot even represent our own country in sports? How can our own locals applaud and justify such a scheme that has failed in its mission so spectacularly? How does Lee Bee Wah smile into the camera saying that the money nurturing them is well-spent when not a single local talent even gets to sniff that wad of cash? How does Tony Tan stand and wave the Singapore flag so happily in London when he knows that when we won 2 medalswe are simply getting our money’s worth for all our investment on them? Is he actually just celebrating a successful business deal?

When we won 2 medals, I knew Singapore’s sports had failed. Because I was ultimately inspired by a foreigner totally unconnected to me, and not my country’s own team on which millions had been spent on to do exactly that. Because I know for all of Singapore’s efforts to succeed in sports, our policy-makers have no idea what sports is about. Because I know that I, and the majority of the local sporting talent, will never stand a chance to compete in the Olympics, not if Singapore persists in only sports it thinks it can win, and not if we continue outsourcing our sports.

Let Tony Tan, and the entire Singapore, actually have something to jump and wave the Singapore flag about for. Let’s rethink our sporting policies.

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