15 August 2012

How Proud Are Singaporeans of Singapore's Olympic Achievements?

Feng Tianwei, representing Singapore, won a bronze medal in the women's singles at the 2012 Olympics.

Ms Feng and two other China-born members of the women's table-tennis team later won the bronze medal.

Many Singaporeans are happy that the team won two bronze medals, just as fans of Manchester City FC were happy that the team won the Barclays Premier League title last season.

But, are Singaporeans proud of their achievements?

What is a Singaporean athlete?
A typical argument defending or supporting the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme is that almost all Singaporeans or their ancestors are immigrants, so Singaporeans should accept foreign-born athletes.

This is nothing more than an attempt to confuse others, if the purveyors of the argument are not confused themselves.

Athletes in the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme were foreigners who were talent scouted by national sports associations after their talent was evident and imported into Singapore and given Singapore citizenship so that they can represent Team Singapore.

It is for this reason that many Singaporeans do not feel any national pride in, or are even plainly embarrassed by, medals won such foreign-born athletes.

Tan Howe Liang is different.  According to Wikipedia, Mr Tan came to Singapore with his family when he was around 4 years old in search of a better life.  His weightlifting career began when he was 19 years old.  Mr Tan is a Singaporean athlete whom Singaporeans can connect with and whose Olympic silver medal Singaporeans are proud of.

Great Britain's Jessica Ennis, winner of the gold medal in the women's heptathlon at the 2012 Olympics was cited (by Annabel Pennefather, see below) as an example of an athlete whose achievements the British are proud of and whom the British embrace as one of themselves even though her mother was born in Jamaica.  Where an athlete's parents were born is irrelevant; Ms Ennis herself was born in the UK.

Another example cited is Mohamed ("Mo") Farah, winner of the gold medal in the men's 5,000 metres and 10,000 metres at the 2012 Olympics.  Mr Farah was born and raised in Somalia, but as the country sank into civil war, he moved to the UK at the age of 8 years old to live with his father, who was born and bred in Britain.  The British are rightly proud of Mr Farah's achievements and embrace him as one of themselves.

Ten athletes out of the total of 23 Team Singapore athletes at the 2012 Olympics are beneficiaries of the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme.  Sadly, many of the non-foreign-born Singaporean athletes at the 2012 Olympics participated on wild card invitations, meaning that they did not even meet the entry standards set by the respective international sports federations.

Are the athletes proud to represent Singapore?
No athlete chosen by Singapore National Olympic Council to represent Singapore at the 2012 Olympics (or Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, South-East Asian Games or even the Youth Olympics) is likely to say that he or she is not proud to represent Singapore.

In addition, they are, or should be, grateful for the opportunity to represent Singapore.

If they did not represent Singapore, few if any of them can make any progress in their sport as they would otherwise not have received any allowance or funding for their training or for competing in international sports events.

But, if given the opportunity, would the foreign-born athletes have preferred to represent Singapore or the countries of their birth?  Ms Feng, to whom this question was posed by a caller, did not quite answer the question apart from expressing gratitude to Singapore, despite being asked twice by presenter Daniel Martin (Ms Feng had time to consider her answer during a commercial break).

In any case, do athletes participate in their sport primarily because of their love for the sport and to achieve glory for themselves or to bring glory to their country?

Did the athletes perform well?
Several athletes performed below expectations.

Achieving a personal best is immaterial if an athlete is eliminated in the first round because it shows that he or she should not have been there in the first instance.

Athletes should participate at the Olympics if and only if they meet the entry standards, but not otherwise.

The mainstream media
On 14 August 2012, Channel News Asia's Talking Point tried to assess the performance of Singapore’s athletes at the 2012 Olympics.

The studio panel comprised the following: (a) Singapore National Olympic Council vice-president Annabel Pennefather; (b) Fencing Singapore president Nicholas Fang; (c) double bronze medal winner at 2012 Olympics Feng Tianwei (assisted by a Mandarin-to-English translator); and (d) 2012 Olympics laser sailor Colin Cheng Xinru.

Although Talking Point's tagline is "there are always two sides to every issue", it was quite apparent that all four panelists were not just on the same side of the issue but very enthusiastically so.

There was no exchange of ideas, no discussion and no debate.

There was no one to put forward his (and many Singaporeans') feelings that they are not proud of Singapore's athletes' performance at the 2012 Olympics.

There was no one to challenge Mr Fang when he said he was embarrassed that a member of the public was embarrassed by foreign-born imported athletes' winning two bronze medals for Singapore.

There was no one to tell the panel that the fact that although most Singaporeans' forefathers were immigrants themselves, Singapore-born athletes are seen as being different from foreign-born imports.  There was no one to tell the panel that neither Jessica Ennis and Mohamed Farah is a foreign-born import (see above).

There was no one to challenge Mr Fang's statement that the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme was successful as evidenced by the medals won (by foreign-born imports) despite saying that the scheme was supposed to kick-start the development of local talent and raise the standard of sports in Singapore.

There was no one to tell the panel that athletes are expected to make sacrifices in the pursuit of their athletic ambitions and while we acknowledge their sacrifices, it is not something we need to be proud of them for.  Few people believe that athletes make sacrifices for the country or the people.  There was no one to tell the panel that just because few Singaporean-born parents were prepared to encourage their children to pursue careers in sports, we should resort to using foreign-born imports.

There was no one to ask Mr Fang why, when asked to comment on the generous Multi-Million Dollar Awards, he recalled what Steven Redgrave said (I believe he was referring to Steven Geoffrey Redgrave).  Mr Redgrave apparently said that it didn't matter that he received little or no monetary awards for his five Olympic gold medals because he knew that he was fortunate just to receive financial support to train for the Olympics.  Singapore athletes receive both financial support in preparing for the Olympics as well as monetary awards under the Multi-Million Dollar Awards.  Does Mr Fang believe that the Multi-Million Dollar Awards should be scrapped?

There was no one to tell Ms Pennefather that spectators cheering the athletes in a competition is not necessarily the same as their being proud of the athletes and that spectators will often cheer athletes not from their own countries to encourage them.

In the end, the programme seemed nothing more than an exercise to tell Singaporeans that they should be proud of their athletes' achievements at the 2012 Olympics.


1. Singapore Wins Two Olympic Medals But Do Citizens Care? here


  1. I feel more proud of Singapore's Paralympic achievements in 2008 than its double bronze Olympic achievements in 2012.

  2. Agree, this program was so one sided. Every one of them were obviously pro FTS and there was no one from the other side invited to give their views and to challenge the panelists. Even the 2 people who gave negative responses, in a polite manner I might add, were shot down by the panelists without having any means or chance to rebut or to reply. FTW conducted herself well, but the only thing in Singlish she could say was a "Thank you, Singapore" at the very end.
    Yes, thank you Singapore suckers for all the money.

  3. Why is the Sports ministry so unclever? Choose some sports where being small and accurate has a chance of winning medals. Like shooting. Like snooker. Like bowling. Why go for pingpong?

  4. Feng has only gratitude for Sg. You can tell it from the answer she gave when asked if she was proud to win the medal for Sg. She said she was thankful for the chances Sg has given her, just like an employee thanking her employer when she receives an award. She is proud of her achievement but thankful to Sg. You want a medal? Groom me, support me, pay me and I will get it for you. It's strictly business. I don't think Feng will ever be proud to represent Sg.