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Olympic goals must come with professionalism, says Andrew Loh.

Bloggers up in arms over Lee Bee Wah’s actions

The STTA’s president must realise that winning an Olympic medal means nothing if we do not also have basic common courtesy - and professionalism.

Andrew Loh / Deputy Editor

Bloggers are scathing in their criticisms over the actions of the president of the Singapore Table Tennis Association, Ms Lee Bee Wah, in sacking table tennis team manager, Antony Lee.

“It took 48 years for the country to win an Olympic medal,” said blogger Ian Tan , “and it took one decision to totally kill it.”

Although the Today paper had quoted Ms Lee as saying that she “is not sacking anybody,” (Today) many still believe that she was.

She had explained that Antony Lee’s contract would expire on Aug 31, and that even before the Beijing Olympics, the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) had discussed facilitating his return. “I said I had no objection,” Ms Lee had said. “It has nothing to do with the Gao Ning incident,” she added. Indeed, the SSC’s chief, Mr Wayde Clews, confirmed this. “Antony’s secondment is until Aug 31, and the agreement with STTA was that he would return to SSC after that.”

Yesterday, the Sunday Times reported Ms Lee as having said: “I have a new team, and will have a new CEO and technical director. It is best that the manager is chosen by them. Antony is welcome to apply for the position when we ask for applications.”

The Today paper quoted her: “I didn’t say that Antony and the coach will be sacked…I feel that it’s all been blown out of proportion and now the damage is really terrible.”

However, her clarification does not seem to cut any ice with bloggers. Strategy to Freedom felt that Ms Lee should have given a more concrete reason on the dismissal. “Ms Lee has cited none so far apart from that (sic) a new CEO and a new technical director are coming on board,” he said. Sherfiee felt that the successful effort made by the coach and others should take precedence over the oversight of not having a coach being present at Gao Ning’s match against his Croatian opponent. Some felt that even if an infraction was committed on the part of the team manager or the coach, a proper inquiry should have first been arranged. “The alleged infraction must have been extremely grave to warrant immediate dismissal in Beijing!” said Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan, who blogs at nofearsingapore.blogspot.com.

“I felt she lost the plot when she went about unprofessionally and definitely showing her inexperience by indicating that Antony Lee’s services were no longer needed,” said Razorback88. “What a knee-jerk reaction!”

Jinn Pod is more concerned about the kind of message that such actions would send to athletes. “Does she even know what kind of hard work the whole team, including the coaches and managers, have gone through to achieve such success? It didn't happen overnight," he wrote. “So there was a slip-up. Couldn't it be handled in a better way? What kind of message are you giving to the athletes?”

Beautiful Disarray agrees. “After guiding our female table tennis athletes to winning our first medal at the Olympics since Singapore's independence… this is how you repay them - by telling them they're "not needed" anymore?”

Ms Lee’s actions also brought up the concern that it would affect the morale of the table-tennis association, its athletes and the celebration which is expected when the team returns home to Singapore. “She has really dampened our Celebrations for this Olympic Silver after 48 years!” says Razorback88. Names Recall feels that how Singaporeans view her explanation “will have a bearing for the table tennis morale to come”.

Full Stomach said it was in bad taste to publicly criticise a team member on television. “It is the kind of school boy (or girl) mistake that every entry level management literature teaches you: NEVER PUT YOUR TEAM MEMBER DOWN IN FRONT OF EVERYONE,” he wrote. “But really, doing it in front of national TV is bad taste.”

Despite all the diatribes against Ms Lee, not many are calling for her resignation, though Workers’ Party member Mr Yaw Shin Leong proposed that the STTA “review(s) the future of its current president”. He added, however, that if Ms Lee’s objectives are in line with what STTA intends to do and she can still contribute, STTA should welcome her.

“Otherwise, STTA should have a new president. It is best that the new president is chosen by the STTA,” said Mr Yaw. “Also Ms Lee should be welcome to apply for the position when STTA ask for applications,” he quipped, alluding to Ms Lee’s own statement that "team manager Antony Lee could make applications to the STTA when we ask for applications”.

Yaw was quick to add that he was not saying that Ms Lee should be sacked.

What is still left in the balance is the future of manager Lee. When contacted yesterday by the Today paper, he said he had yet to hear from the STTA or the SSC regarding his future. It would thus seem that not only has Ms Lee been insensitive (with an atrocious sense of timing and some would say, arrogance), the SSC too seems to be dragging its feet over the future of the manager. The SSC should do the decent thing and let Antony Lee know about his future with the STTA soon. This is only right if we want to trumpet our silver medal win. We should not treat the person most responsible for it in such an unprofessional manner.

Saddened though he may be, manager Lee is proud of what he has achieved. “Whatever happens, the new management cannot discount the contribution of the former staff,” he said. “I still feel proud because I can say that I’ve been part of a team that made history, a team that made the Olympic medal dream happen.”

The STTA’s president must realise that winning an Olympic medal means nothing if we also do not have basic common courtesy.

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