Ms Ellen Lee, who is expected to replace Ms Lee Bee Wah as the president of the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA), says she has no plans to change the sport association’s policy on using foreign-born paddlers to represent Singapore.
“For anyone to do well in anything, competition is necessary,” the Straits Times quoted her as saying. “We need to have the foreign talents to provide that competition... and motivate Singaporeans to rise to the occasion.”
Ms Ellen Lee, who has been a Member of Parliament (MP) for the Sembawang Group Representation Constituency since 2006, and a lawyer with Ramdas & Wong, will be assisted by fellow MP Alex Yam who is also the STTA’s choice as vice president, if she takes up the top post in the STTA.
Ms Lee Bee Wah has been at the helm since 2008 and has led table tennis to become “the country's most successful sport”, according to the Straits Times.
The end of her tenure at the STTA was announced on 15 August and will take effect on 6 September when a new president will be elected.
The MP for Nee Soon GRC told the media that the decision to step down was to “give my successor ample time to prepare for the 2016 Olympics and beyond.”
"Not many would dare to take over. Now that the candidate is ready, it's better to hand over now," she said. "When I think it's time to let go, I'll let go for the good and continuity of the sport.
"If there is no successor, then it would be disastrous.”
Her stint as president saw some momentous achievements in the sport, including winning the country’s first Olympic medal in 48 years at the 2008 Beijing Games, and being the first team in 17 years to beat China to win the World Team Championships in 2010.
However, the STTA’s achievements were plagued by criticisms that the table-tennis teams were littered with foreign-born paddlers, and were not “true” representatives of Singapore.
For example, in the recent Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, the Singapore contingent won a total of 38 medals in 5 sports.
Out of that total, 21 medals were won by the table tennis team – and out of these 21 medals, 19 were won by China-born paddlers. (See here.)
It is an issue which Ms Ellen Lee is aware of.
Nonetheless, she is insistent that the dependence on these foreign-born athletes won’t change – at least for the time-being.
One of the reasons why there are fewer Singapore-born paddlers, she says, is because of parental “obstacle”, where "few parents support a sporting career ahead of academic success."
Still, she is hopeful that recent triumphs by local sportsmen and women in international competitions will encourage parents to support their children embarking on sporting careers.
That aside, Ms Ellen Lee also says she is looking to address the criticisms by the public of foreign-born paddlers.
She says she would like to help the China-born paddlers “integrate more into society.”
One of the ways to do so and to make the public “more receptive” to the foreign-born sportspersons is to help them be able to speak the English language, which has been a sticking point among some members of the public who could not relate to the players because of their inability to speak the language.
If helping the players to be proficient in the language will make Singaporeans more receptive (to) them, Ms Ellen Lee says, “and helps to reduce the negativity, then it is possible.”
She says that for a start she would like to organise more gatherings and interactions between the team and supporters.
On being approached to helm the STTA, Ms Ellen Lee says she was “surprised” by it, given that she “does not play table tennis, and is bad at fund raising.”
But she says she is confident of taking on the job.