The Straits Times reported today (18 June) that some underaged national junior athletes were caught drinking alcohol in their hotel rooms after the end of the South-east Asian Junior Athletics Championships in Phuket. There are also allegations that an Singapore Athletic Association (SAA) official, upon making the discovery, not only did not stop the teens but even played card games with them late into the night. The SAA official also allegedly brought the athletes out to smoke shisha. When contacted, the SAA said it was considering referring the matter to the students’ schools so that they can be disciplinarily dealt by their schools. However, parents are upset with the SAA for considering this option – they say that the athletes were representing Singapore, not their schools, and as such, should be dealt with by the NSA. Also, they are upset with the NSA for not looking after their kids properly when they are away on competition.
I think one particular line from Leonard Lim’s report probably sums up the impact of this whole episode best:
“The saga has taken the shine off what had been Singapore’s best performance at the annual competition, which is seen as a breeding ground for future SEA Games stars.”
I wonder if the SAA actually knew what sort of message it was sending when it said that it was considering referring the matter to the athletes’ schools for disciplinary action, instead of taking action against its charges and officials itself.
As a parent, this is the message I got:
“Congratulations, your child has been chosen by us to represent Singapore in an overseas competition. If he does well, all credit to him, to Singapore and to us.
“However, don’t trust us to take full care of him or her when they are away. What he or she gets up to is not our responsibility.”
And so, with one statement from its chief supremo ( “We are considering our options now, and one of them includes referring the matter to the respective schools for the neccessary action to be taken.” ), the SAA has effectively undermined the bonds of trust between it and the parents of national junior athletes and, equally significantly, with these students’ schools.
Do you think that from now on, parents will be so willing to allow their kids to compete overseas, given the sort of (non) assurances of care that they are getting from the SAA?
Likewise, do you think schools will be so willing to acede to the SAA’s request to give their students time off from their studies to compete overseas?
Why should they do so – especially now that it is made abundantly clear that they must deal with whatever mischief their students get up too whilst representing their NSA and their country?
Wouldn’t it better and a lot more convenient for them to say no to the student taking time off from school in the first place, right?
Call me old-fashioned but I consider national representation a form of national service.
Sure, these teens are being given opportunities to compete overseas and to go to places which they may not, or may never visit. And sure, it is common knowledge that athletes can and do get into ‘mischief’ when away.
But the fact remains that these athletes are also going to these places to represent the country and to lift the name of the country and the NSA.
As such, the NSA should be like the army. It must have a stringent list of discipline protocols, of dos and don’ts for these athletes to ensure that
a) these teenagers are taken care of at all times,
b) they don’t get up to any behaviour which may be detrimental to themselves, their team mates, the NSA’s name and Singapore’s reputation.
c) parents and schools can have the utmost peace of mind when they allow their children to travel overseas.
It’s not very hard to do all these things, SAA.
Whenever you want to send a bunch of junior athletes overseas, just tell them that they have to be on their best behaviour at all times because they are representing Singapore.
Drill it into them that they are not to do anything that will let themselves and the country down.
Finally, impress it upon them in no uncertain terms that while things may happen behind closed doors, these students/athletes will still be liable for punishment if they ever get caught.
Also, have a meeting with the parents to tell the same things.
Now, is that really so difficult?
Instead, because the SAA apprently spent three weeks investigating these incidents, I am told by my sources that some students who had been caught drinking heavily in Phuket were still allowed to go compete in the 13th Asian Junior Athletics Championships in Jakarta.
Again, what sort of message is being sent to parents here?
I think this episode has left a nasty aftertaste in many people’s mouths and I think that some measure of parental and school trust has been lost. In fact, the damage may be irreparable with some parents/schools.
But it is never too late for the SAA to pick up the pieces and use it to improve the way it manages it athletes overseas.
Thing is, does it realise the need to do so?
Yours in Sport
Singapore Sports Fan
(Note: Picture taken from www.fotosearch.com)