In ”Double Joy for Liu, Cheng”( TODAY, 26 June 2008 ), it was reported that sailors Justin Liu and Sherman Cheng were still unlikely to get the nod for the Beijing Olympics despite finishing second in the 29er class at the prestigious Keil Regatta in Germany.
In “Sailing gets YOG Boost” (The Straits Times, 25 June 2008 ), it was reported that Singapore’s hopes of winning medals at the 2010 Youth Olympics Games were given a huge boost after the ISAF, the world sailing body, chose the Byte CII for the one-person dinghy event and the Bic Techno 293 for windsurfing. Singapore is traditionally strong in the Byte CII. The report also quoted SingaporeSailing president Low Teo Ping and chief executive officer Andrew Sanders as predicting a two-to-three medal haul for Singapore at the YOG.
Some may find him an abrasive character. Others call him arrogant.
But to me, Low Teo Ping, president of SingaporeSailing, (centre of above picture, with thumbs up ) is a national hero – for championing local talent and for proving that Singapore can succeed in sports on the world stage WITHOUT having to resort to importing foreign talents.
I think the successes that SingaporeSailing have achieved over the years speak for themselves.
Frankly, apart from the five Asian Games golds that our sailors won at the 2006 Asiad in Doha, Qatar, the best result by any national sports association (NSA), I have lost count of the number of world youth titles that they have also won over the past four years.
However, I am willing to bet that if you average the triumphs, you get a figure of about one or two world titles a year. Now that’s an amazing feat.
The newspaper reports which I’ve pulled out also speak for themselves.
To have Low and Andrew Sanders, his chief executive officer at SingaporeSailing, confidently targetting two to three gold medals from their sailors at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games, speaks volumes not just of the sort of self-confidence that these two men have in their young athletes but also the breadth of talent available at their disposal (See “Sailing gets YOG Boost”, The Straits Times, 25 June 2008 ).
Again, to have an army of local sailors still fighting tooth and nail ( four contending pairs in the Men’s 470 selection trials, four sailors in the Laser and four in the Laser Radial) at this stage for the right to represent Singapore at the Beijing Olympics, gives you an idea of the number of talented sailors that SingaporeSailing has managed to groom over the past 10 years.
That’s not all – it also tells you how fiercely rigorous and stringent the national body’s system of selection is in ensuring that only the best get to fly the country’s flag. ( see “Double Joy for Liu, Cheng”, TODAY, 26 June 2008 )
Another sign of Low’s firm belief and faith in local talent: His forging of a partnership with the Singapore Sports School so as to ensure that his still-schooling sailors have a flexible academic curriculum that enables them to jet off regularly for competitions and training stints ( Note: Quite significant to see the Sports School listed as one of SingaporeSailing’s partners in success on the NSA’s website ).
And ah yes, there’s also Low’s sheer willingness to invest in his youngsters, sending them all over the world to compete in international meets.
In fact, Dr Irwin Seet, the Sports School’s Director of Sports, was, at one stage, known for saying out loud in jest that he could hardly remember what Victoria Chan, one of Singapore’s brighest young sailors, looked like as she seemed to spend more months away competing and training than in school.
“First, we believed that our local talent can do it,” said Low in an interview with The Straits Times last November when asked why his NSA opted out of the foreign talent route ( see “The Next Wave” in “Singapore Boleh, Local Talent Boleh” )
“Second, if we were going to volunteer blood, sweat and tears in such a long-term project, should we do it to benefit foreigners or our fellow Singaporeans? We decided that the beneficiaries should be Singaporeans.”
And even though sailing, as a spectator sport, will never attract the sort of crowds as say, a Lions’ football game or an international badminton or table tennis tournament, you can be sure of one thing – it has gone a long way in restoring a sense of pride not just in Singapore sport, in local talent, but most significantly, in the ordinary man on the street.
How else do you explain the fact that after the 2006 Asian Games, strangers were actually going up to Low, wherever he went, to shake his hand, to congratulate him, and most significantly, to thank him for showing that “Singapore talent boleh”?
Most importantly, Low, through SingaporeSailing’s successes, has effectively exposed the excuses that were used by those NSAs to justfy their rampant use of the Foreign Talent Scheme. That he has done it through a sport like sailing is even more amazing.
How so? Let me explain:
Sailing is an extremely expensive sport. You have to own your own boat, your own sails, and you will probably have to be a member of one of the handful of sailing clubs in Singapore.
Basically that means that the sport’s entry barriers for the average Joe on the street are high.
Compare that to the cost of buying a badminton racquet or table-tennis bat, and to the slew of badminton courts and table-tennis tables that can be found in schools, community centres, HDB playgrounds, and evne HDB void decks!
In other words, the barriers to entry for badminton and table-tennis for kids are practically non-existent.
All this means that SingaporeSailing, over the years, has had a much smaller pool of talent to choose from, develop and groom than badminton and table-tennis.
Yet, despite this societal obstacle, it has still managed to produce a constant stream of South-east Asian and Asian Games winners as well as a string of world youth champions.
In contrast, we find the Singapore Table Tennis Association and the Singapore Badminton Association lamenting that Singapore’s population is not large enough to produce enough local talent for them to develop into world-class players, and using this as a reason to import foreign-born players into their national squads.
At the end of the day, I think it’s clear that it’s not the lack of quality local talent that is preventing Singapore from producing world-class athletes.
It’s the lack of quality leadership in certain NSAs.
So thank you, Mr Low, for showing what Singaporeans can achieve with local talent if they set their minds to it, and thank you for restoring faith and pride in our Singapore athletes.
Yours in sport
Singapore Sports Fan