Tuesday, 3 October 2023

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A tale of two countries

Leong Sze Hian / Columnist

Politicians should stick to what they do best – politicking!

I refer to the various news reports of Ms Lee Bee Wah’s apology and the press conference by the Minister for Community, Youth and Sports, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan. (See links below.)

I would like to contrast Singapore’s silver medal win with Jamaica’s haul of six golds in the Beijing Olympics.

When Singapore became independent in 1965, one of the countries which Singapore looked to, as a model, was Jamaica (Source : the book “Jamaica Betrayed” by Professor Locksley I Lindo of the University of the West Indies).

Jamaica – graciousness and forgiveness

As highlighted in the media all over the world, the Jamaicans have perhaps been unique in that almost none of its athletes have succumbed to offers of money and citizenships to run for other developed and rich countries.

The patriotism of the Jamaicans, and their success in developing world class sporting talents, despite its economic state – its per capita income is many times less than Singapore’s and population is about half Singapore’s – is something that we could learn from. In 2006, Jamaica’s per capita GDP was US$4,600, compared to US$31,400 for Singapore.

The Jamaicans have shown us that importing foreign talents, which in the case of our table-tennis team were 100 per cent former Chinese nationals, may not be the only way to become world class in sports.

As a Singaporean, I look forward to the day when another Singaporean, like Mr Tan Howe Liang, wins a medal for Singapore.

The Olympics, which was incepted in 776 BC, was originally a festival meant to be a celebration of the achievements of the human body (source : Wikipedia), and there were no medals or monetary rewards. It is only in modern times, that perhaps emphasis (too much) has been given to the winning of medals.

Another contrast is perhaps that whilst the entire Jamaican nation is celebrating in unity, Singapore is mired in the controversy of the departure of our table-tennis team manager, and the uncertain tenure of our head coach.

Even the dropping of the baton by the Jamaican relay team hardly received any recriminations in Jamaica. Such graciousness in forgiving mistakes is perhaps something that we can learn from too.

Singapore – questions left unanswered

Although the president of the STTA has apologised for causing “any grievances and stress”, many questions were left unanswered at the press conference. For example, the fact that Mr Anthony Lee will have to leave the STTA, even though he has been given another three months to write his Olympic reports at STTA.

The head coach has now become one of two head coaches separately for the men’s and women’s teams. Since we had a winning formula that worked so well that we have an Olympic medal, why the sudden change now to have two separate head coaches?

As reported in the media, why did the head coach say on one day that he was happy to stay and continue, but the next day that he was having second thoughts?

Why did it take such a long time (8 days), and only after ministerial intervention, before an apology was given? Apology notwithstanding, I think Singaporeans may still like to know what actually transpired.

As to the remarks by the minister that “some mistakes were made”, can we be given more details as to what they were, and who made them?

Since the decision not to renew the team manager’s contract was made before the team left for the Olympics, why wasn’t he told, such that he had to “learn it from someone else”?

What were the reasons for not renewing his contract? As to the reason given earlier by the president of the STTA that the team manager’s contract was due to expire on 31 August, I am puzzled by the manager’s remarks that he never had a contract with the STTA, and that he had yet to hear from the STTA or the SSC regarding his future.

As our table-tennis is arguably Singapore’s most successful sport, and our best medal hope which the team delivered exemplarily to end our 48-year medal glut, is this the way to treat its manager and head coach?

I think the millions of Singaporeans who have been rooting for the team with our eyes glued to television screens deserve a better explanation than the one offered – that: “As for the change in the team management structure, the association is looking to recruit a CEO and a technical director. Once these positions are filled, STTA will decide who the next team manager will be”.

Perhaps Mr Choo Wee Khiang, the former President of the STTA, who led it for some 20 years until only about a month ago, can shed some light on the above.


Although parliamentarians are also human, I think some Singaporeans may expect a much higher standard of accountability and transparency for their actions, particularly on issues that receive worldwide coverage, like the Olympics.

With regard to the remarks that “(the) sport could learn from this incident”, this saga may raise a fundamental question – and that is, why do we have politicians heading sports associations?

Shouldn’t those with the experience, interest and passion for the sport be leaders instead?

For example, we had a politician who lead the Football Association of Singapore (FAS). Ask any football fan, and the goal stated of getting to the World Cup Finals in 2010, is a joke, considering our dismal showing in recent years. Of course, Goal 2010 has since been abandoned.

Perhaps politicians should stick to what they know best – “politiking-ly” speaking!

The author was a former Honorary Consul of Jamaica to Singapore

News reports:

“I didn’t say they would be sacked.” (Today, Aug 25)

“Is something seriously wrong.” (Today, Au 25)

“Sports body, not a business.” (Today, Aug 25)

“Move is too harsh.” (Today, Aug 25)

“We are puzzled.” (Today, Aug 25)

“Why so glum?: They’ve attained Singapore‘s greatest sporting achievement in 48 years. You wouldn’t have guessed that from their expressions.” (New Paper, Aug 27)

“I’m sorry, Singapore.” (ST, Aug 30)


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