In my earlier post, I asked readers to see if the anti-FTW arguments are hypocritical. As expected, I was flamed for the post.
Indeed when you read the comments, the anti-FTW arguments thus far betray a larger problem regarding Singaporean’s attitudes towards sports excellence. This episode has also shown how rabid some of the anti-foreigner attitudes have become. Let us examine some of the arguments thus far:
1. Why are we spending so much on medals?
Every country has to spend a lot to win medals. Or did you think that people like Michael Phelps woke up one day, went a few laps around the pool, and magically gained the power go earn 18 Olympic golds? A sophisticated and expensive national training program has to be put in place to support the training and logistics of national athletes. Sports is one of those things where you get what you pay for.
2. What’s the point of chasing medals then?
This question is not unique to Singapore. Have you wondered why other countries chase medals? Medals do not buy immediate economic benefits. There are people who will question the value of spending millions on something intangible like sports excellence. Why not spend the money on more tangible benefits like housing and healthcare instead?
The answers are probably three-fold:
1. It is the duty of a government to give its aspiring sportsmen a chance to compete on the global arena.
2. “Because we can”. Many people compete in sports do so even if they know they do not have a chance of winning. But they do it anyway because it is a race against oneself. Why can’t a country do the same?
3. Because the one thing medals can buy is national pride, which I will touch on later.
If you feel that feel that the govt should be diverting most of our money towards more tangible stuff instead of promoting sports excellence, be honest about it. And if many people feel that way, then I am concerned for the state of this country. It will be a sign that citizens have focused so much on the material things in life that they are willing to forsake the intangibles like sports.
3. There’s no pride when our medals are bought by money.
Let’s respond with a few questions: “Are you willing to pay to train locals into Olympic champions? Are you willing to rewards locals who become Olympic champions with millions of dollars?”
As pointed our in my earlier post, the reward program by the Singapore National Olympic Council does not discriminate against Singaporeans. If you are born-and-bred here, you still get the same rewards as the foreign talent. And it makes sense to have prize money given out for medals, since it recognises good performance that can only come about via hard work and sacrifice.
In any case, there’s a pretty good chance that our foreign imports are not more expensive than our local players. After all, there’s no compelling reason to pay them a base salary that is more than a local since they are separately rewarded for good competition performance via bonuses. This means that Feng Tian Wei, Li Jiawei and Wang Yuegu were really born-and-bred in Singapore, they will likely still command the same salary.
4. We used to have locals winning medals for us. There’s no pride in having a foreigner win medals for Singapore.
In my earlier post, I mentioned that Singapore could not have won the Malaysian Cup in the 1990s if it weren’t for our foreign imports. Foreigners have worked with locals to help us win medals. If we were proud of those past achievements, we shouldn’t brush aside the contributions of these foreigners.
The criticism that our table tennis team consist of 100% foreigners is valid. But what if the foreigner willingly comes to Singapore on her own, because of her desire to represent this country. Should we not welcome such people with open arms, given that we too were mostly descended from immigrants searching for a better life?
Limpeh mentioned this story in his blog: “…I want to talk about Oksana Chusovitina. She is an amazing woman – she is the oldest gymnast at the 2012 Olympics, competing at the age of 37 and still making the finals for vault, the apparatus where she won the silver medal in 2008 Beijing. She took part in her first Olympics in 1992 with the CIS team, winning one gold medal then. She then represented Uzbekistan for the next 3 Olympics before moving to Germany to seek medical treatment for her son who was diagnosed with acute leukaemia at the age of 3. In order to repay the Germans for treating her son’s illness, she has competed for Germany since 2006. At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, she won a silver medal for Germany – their first in women’s gymnastics for post-reunification Germany.”
What many people fail to realise is that in order to groom local talent, you need both strong local sportsmen and a strong national training system. Without one or the other, there will be no results. People should realise that winning a medal is not the achievement of effort from the sportsman alone. There is an entire team behind the sportsman who are part of the training and logistics program. In Singapore’s case, our table tennis coach may be from China, but majority of the supporting team and associations are local. When FTW first came to Singapore, she was ranked 73th in the world. Her effort, combined with the expertise and support from our national traning program, helped her get the Olympic bronze. This is also testament to the strength of the training and support team.
The recruitment of foreign players has given our national training program a chance to improve itself, such that it is one day ready to train our local talents in our Singapore sports school into world class athletes. After all, if our training program can’t even improve a “World 73th” into a bronze medalist, what can such a program do for an unknown local? The presence of foreigners as sparring partners will also give locals more opportunities to hone their skills at home.