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Dismissal of table-tennis coach a sad case of arrogance.

Ms Lee Bee Wah: A new broom sweeps indiscriminately

TOC Op-Ed

Choo Zheng Xi / Editor in Chief

Mr Ng Ser Miang, Singapore’s only representative on the International Olympic Committee, highlighted the arrogance of Member of Parliament (Nee Soon South, Ang Mo Kio GRC) Ms Lee Bee Wah’s decision to fire Singapore table-tennis team manager Antony Lee succinctly: “I’m quite puzzled as to how a decision like that can be made by the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) president, who has been in office for just over a month.”

That Ms Lee, who took over as STTA president only last month, feels that she has personal ownership over the table-tennis team is undoubted. Using the personal pronoun in her interview with the Straits Times, she said: “I have a new team and will have a new CEO and technical director”.

Ms Lee’s transposition of the authoritarian instincts of the People’s Action Party (PAP) into the sporting arena highlights the ugliest characteristics of the party. She has in one fell swoop turned the mood over Singapore’s first Olympic silver sour, putting personal pique over national interest, running roughshod over people far more qualified than herself to impose a unilateral decision that very obviously lacks the support of those with a deep stake in Singapore’s sporting success.

Ms Lee was right to ask for accountability in the fiasco that left Singapore’s top men’s player Gao Ning on courtside alone, without a coach, during his match with unfancied Croatian Tan Ruiwu. Gao lost the match 0-4. It is unfortunate that Ms Lee has chosen to overreact and create a larger fiasco by making a public example of Antony Lee without consulting table tennis officials.

Integrity, accountability

More damningly, this incident speaks poorly of her integrity. She did not have the courage to admit that the Gao Ning fiasco was the reason she fired Mr Lee. Asked by the Straits Times if this was the reason she fired Mr Lee, she said it was not and added that “she just wanted to 'let the matter rest’.”

If we take Ms Lee for her word, she has to explain to the country why she fired the Singaporean manager of our only team to win an Olympic silver – and this after a 48-year drought. The only other conclusion to draw is that she is cravenly trying to damage control the fallout of her rash action.

Mr Ng’s criticisms of Ms Lee’s rash actions carry great weight. Unlike Ms Lee, Mr Ng has devoted much of his life to the development of Singaporean sport. He was a former national sailor, and is currently the patron of the Singapore Sailing Federation. As the vice-president of the Singapore National Olympic Council, he was a key player in securing Singapore’s bid to host the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in 2010.

Highhandedness

Having been the president of the STTA for only a month, Ms Lee can have minimal understanding of the team’s dynamic at best. More realistically, she is completely ignorant of the efforts put in by Mr Lee, and the rapport he has built with the team. To add insult to injury, she chose to fire Mr Lee without telling him to his face. Mr Lee had to find out about his dismissal from a "third party", as he himself described it. “I'm surprised she did not tell me directly. That would be the courteous thing to do. I have to hear this from third parties. After doing so much for Singapore,” Mr Lee told the Straits Times, “I deserve a little respect.”

Ms Lee, however, said that “Antony is welcome to apply for the position when we ask for applications”. (Straits Times). It is ironic that in her “bold” public act, what has been foregrounded is her personal cowardice and highhandedness.

Perhaps Ms Lee did not want to follow the example of how her PAP colleague, Minister for Home Affairs Mr Wong Kan Seng, bungled the Mas Selamat fallout with a half-baked apology.

It is sad that she did not perceive the real lesson behind the public’s low estimation of Mr Wong’s insincerity. Mr Wong chose to exonerate the head of the Internal Security Department (ISD) without subjecting him to a disciplinary inquiry. Ms Lee has fallen on the other extreme of the same fundamental problem. By not subjecting the team manager’s oversight to a disciplinary inquiry of sporting officials with a clearer understanding of the sporting arena, she has shown a similar disdain for due process.

The lesson for our political leaders is this: due process in ascertaining guilt or exoneration matters more than well-publicised fist thumping. In Ms Lee’s case, that fist thumping is all the more galling for her inexperience and arrogance.

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