09 August 2012

Singapore Wins Two Olympic Medals But Do Citizens Care?

Many people in many countries would be delighted when one of their people wins an Olympic medal.

But when Feng Tianwei won a bronze medal in table tennis at the 2012 London Olympics, many Singaporeans reacted with indifference or negativity.

According to a poll by Yahoo! Sports, 77 per cent of the 17,227 respondents polled over three days said they would not be proud if a foreign import won an Olympic medal for Singapore.  It is not clear if the respondents had in mind Singapore's table tennis teams, which were almost entirely made up of China-born athletes, but they were the only athletes representing Singapore with any real chance of winning any medals.


After all, if winning an Olympic medal is sports excellence, it should strengthen national pride — a desired outcome of Ministry of Community Development Youth and Sports.

Motivation of foreign imports
Why had these foreign athletes agreed to give up citizenship in their countries to take up Singapore citizenship?

Some do because they are not the crème de la crème in their sport in the country of their birth and are unlikely to ever be included in the national team.  They find Singapore desperate enough for Olympic success to support their aspirations financially and to give them an opportunity to compete at the world stage.

In addition, Singapore National Olympic Council has a very generous Multi-Million Dollar Awards Programme, which provides cash payouts to athletes who win medals at the Olympic, Asian, Commonwealth and South-East Asian Games.

A gold medal in an individual event at the Olympic Games is worth $1 million.

A South East Asian or an Asian Games record is worth $5,000 and $50,000, respectively.

Several foreign-born athletes surrendered their Singapore citizenship after collecting their monetary awards.

Failure to develop local talent
The primary objective of every national sports association should be to develop local talent and elevate the status and/or popularity of its sport.  Unfortunately, if there is no local talent or the local talent is not good enough, the public may think that that NSA has failed.

Many people believe that a NSA should not import foreign talent as a short-cut to achieving its objective.

Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Seng does not seem to agree.

He says that there are no plans to review the Government's Foreign Sports Talent Scheme.  Foreign-born athletes are supposed to catalyse the development of their sport in Singapore and when these sports mature and there is a core of local talent, the FSTS will evolve and MCYS may eventually reduce the need for it in that sport, but not across the board because different sports have different needs.

Over the years, more than 50 foreign athletes have been recruited under FSTS since it started 19 years ago (as Rainbow Scheme).

Ten out of 23 athletes representing Singapore at the 2012 Olympics were part of the FSTS.  Almost all the non-foreign-born Singaporean athletes at the 2012 Olympics participated on wild cards, meaning that they did not meet the entry standards set by the respective international sports federations.

It does not seem that FSTS has succeeded in grooming local talent after almost two decades.

Or, perhaps some NSAs are fiercely devoted to developing local talent no matter what, and do not agree with the principle of the FSTS.  Or, they are simply embarrassed with using foreign talent.

Perhaps, some people cannot distinguish between naturalised foreign-born athletes and local talent, claiming that a Singaporean is a Singaporean regardless where he/she grew up.

Among the international sports federations, International Table Tennis Federation is clear, however.  It believes in the importance of developing local talent, and in 2008, tightened its registration rules for world title events.  No player may represent a new country within three years after the date of registration, if he/she is under 15 years old when registered; within five years after the date of registration, if he/she is over 15 years old but under 18 years old when registered; and within seven years after the date of registration, if he/she is over 18 years old but under 21 years old when registered.  No player 21 years old or older will be registered.

More international sports federations should follow ITTF's fine example.

Many people wonder whether an Olympic medal is worth anything if it is won by naturalised foreign talent that is imported for the apparently primary objective of winning a medal.  They see it as using a country's resources to buy an Olympic medal.

A country's Olympic endeavour should not boil down to scouting for foreign talent who is prepared to transfer his/her allegiance from his/her home country to another country.

Value of an Olympic medal
All this assumes that there is some value in an Olympic medal, even when it is won by a locally born athlete, to justify the effort and money spent on grooming talent.  But, honestly, does it really matter?  After the medals are won and the Olympic flame is extinguished and the excitement is over, life goes back to normal for the rest of us.

Friction with foreigners in Singapore
As at December 2011, there were 2.00 million foreigners in Singapore and 3.27 million citizens.  As at June 2000, there were 1.04 million foreigners and 2.99 million citizens.

The rapid influx of foreigners has strained the domestic infrastructure — roads, public transport, housing, schools and healthcare facilities.

The presence of significant numbers of foreigners has led to increasing competition for jobs and contributed to suppressing wage increases.

Some foreigners believe that Singapore needs them because the country is not producing enough citizens through procreation; they are doing the country and its citizens a favour.

The result is heightened friction between citizens and foreigners, and this friction has extended to imported foreign sports talent.

Government association
Politicians rushed to congratulate Ms Feng and her China-born teammates on their victories —
— President Tony Tan.
— Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
— Deputy Prime Minister and Singapore National Olympic Council president Teo Chee Hean.
— Acting Minister for Community Development Youth and Sports Chan Chun Seng.
— Member of Parliament and Singapore Table Tennis Association president Lee Bee Wah.

Dr Tan said that it showed that Singapore could achieve excellence in sports at the highest level and hoped that it would inspire others to aspire to do likewise.

Mr Teo said that Ms Feng's bronze medal will raise, and has raised, the standards of sports for everyone in Singapore.

MediaCorp broadcast Ms Feng's semi-final match and bronze medal match twice.  It also broadcast the women's table tennis bronze medal contest twice.

Joy but not national pride
Few Singaporeans would have wanted Ms Feng to lose her bronze medal match against Korea's Kim Kyung Ah or the Singapore team of China-born players to lose the team bronze medal contest against Korea.  Some may feel elated.

Unfortunately, that is not the same as national pride in having a Singaporean win an Olympic medal.

People who think otherwise are living in a world of make-belief.


  1. Precisely! and we where will she invest her winnings? China! And so, in the end CHINA wins! CHINA should stand proud! they are unbeatable! All Singapore did was use our public funds to help train and make it possible for China to WIN the top 3 position at the same Olympic event! For that, as a reward we got a Bronze medal.. sorry 2 bronze medal... hows that for an Olympic achievement and National Pride?

  2. Well this paves the path for many more "talent" from China to make their way here. $250,000 to a Million is worth turning their back on their country for a "short while". Come, take citizenship, win medal, collect money, screw Singaporeans and then go back to China. Simple but the darm idiots making the rules do not know this. Especially the retard in charge of ping pong, jumping and hopping like we have produced a Bolt.

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