Singapore table tennis: Is there more – or less – than meets the eye?

The report:

In its report “Must Do Better” (12 June 2008 ), the TODAY newspaper reported that despite the international successes of its athletes, the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) was conspicuously absent from the Singapore Sports Council’s list of role model sports associations when the SSC unveiled its grants for national sports associations ( NSAs ) for FY 2008/09.

Said SSC chief executive officer Oon Jin Teik: “Table tennis did not fulfill all the factors as we are looking at youth development and whether there is a sustainable system (for developing athletes). There is no pipeline for youth athletes … an NSA may be winning medals but is there a high performance system in place?”

My thoughts:

I was intrigued by Oon’s remark and so I checked out the STTA’s website and its section on youth development . I found a flow chart detailing how talented young paddlers will be spotted, groomed and developed, how they will graduate, at certain ages, into the youth development squad, and how, from there, they will move on to the national training team and finally, to the national team.

The section also states:

“STTA is committed to the systematic development of local youth talent. The flow chart provides a broad outline of the stags of development as local youths progress from the initial stages of training at the zone centres, culminating with the very best joining the established elite players in the National Team.”

And yet, here is Oon saying on public record that the STTA is not a role model for youth development because “there is no pipeline for youth athletes.”

Does this mean that the STTA’s youth development programme is but a paper diagram and nothing more? Does the SSC know something that it is not saying publicly? Because I am now seriously wondering where the bulk of the annual funding – our tax dollars – that the STTA is receiving from the SSC is going to.

I was also intrigued by STTA general manager Jackie Tay’s almost flippant response when TODAY asked him for his views regarding the SSC’s move to not recognise it as a role model NSA.

“Being a role model NSA is not key for us as our vision and mission is in elite deveopment and high participation,” he said.

So, in effect, what the STTA is saying is that it doesn’t give a hoot that its youth development programme is not up to the mark.

Yet, in the next breath, Tay had the gall to say that the STTA had expected a little but more in funding from the SSC for youth development.

Excuse me, but if being a role model in youth development is not key to your NSA’s vision and mission, then why should you be asking for more public money for your youth development programmes?

Clearly, something is not right, here. And clearly, only one conclusion can be drawn from this:

Tay’s remark has revealed the STTA’s true colours: the NSA is not interested in developing local talent.

It is only focused on elite development and, by logical extension, achieving success on the international stage ( for what is the point of elite development if not to win medals? ) by all means neccessary.

This probably explains why top local youth players Jenn Lim Pei Qi and Zena Sim, despite being blooded at competitions as early as the 2003 and 2005 SEA Games as well as the 2006 Commonwealth Games, are not – have never been, in fact – in the mix for a ticket to Beijing.

One would have thought that given the sort of early international exposure, these two young women would, as the next step, be developed in time for the Olympics.

What we have witnessed instead in the past 18 months is the parachuting of high-calibre China-born paddlers like Sun Bei Bei, Wang Yuegu and Feng Tian Wei into the national women’s team. They were given Singapore citizenship so that the team can now potentially win a medal at the Beijing Olympics.

Not only that, they were also sent all over the world to compete in the various ITTF Pro Open competitions and other international championships to gear them up for Beijing.

Is this where the bulk of STTA’s funding from the SSC – public money, let me remind you once again – was poured into – leaving precious little for youth development?

If so, then as a fan of Singapore sports, I will state now, in no uncertain terms, that I will feel no pride should our women paddlers go on to break our 48-year Olympic medal drought at Beijing in August.

As far as I am concerned, it will be a hollow victory, full of sound and fury but ultimately, signifying nothing.

Why? Because the STTA has failed in its raison detre as an NSA, its reason for existence as a local Guardian of the sport.

No form of Olympic glory can ever mask this fact. 

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan

See also: Singapore table tennis (Part 2): Damning quotes, damning facts

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8 thoughts on “Singapore table tennis: Is there more – or less – than meets the eye?

  1. Alan Wong says:

    Where is the honour if it can be bought ?

    Essentially it is the same as paying for the
    services of a prostitute.

  2. singaporesportsfan says:

    Hi Alan
    Thanks for visiting the blog and leaving your views.

    Yes, I agree with you that there is no honour in glory if it can be bought.

    But I have nothing against the players. To them, this is a job, a golden opportunity to be able to play table tennis and be paid for it, especially if their own country doesn’t want them.

    I also think that they must have made some emotional sacrifices to come to Singapore and then to lead a gruelling life filled with six hours of training daily as an athlete.

    But I am furious at the STTA for the way they have pursued sporting glory at all costs, and even at the expense of local development, and most especially, for letting the sport down.

    Life is not all about winning medals.

    And I also know that I will be more proud of a national team that is either all-Singaporean, or dominated by Singaporeans, even if that team doesn’t reach the same heights of glory that this all-China team can.

  3. jan says:

    Interesting. Hi SSF!

    I like your analysis. I ran an interview with a senior officer from SNOC recently on the issue of foreign talent and he commented that other than perhaps our Sailing youths, most local youth athletes are hesitant in pursuing a full-time sporting career due to a variety of reasons from lack of parental approval to a bleak post-sporting career.

    As a result, several NSAs have gotten jaded of grooming local talent/youth because it has been challenging retaining them after they graduate from school, as there are too many societal forces that are beyond the NSAs control. Turning pro is a calculated risk/sacrifice that not many local youths are willing to take/make.

    Until there is a solid and sustainable sporting culture established in Singapore first, majority of Singapore will tend to see pursuing a professional athlete career as a sacrifice more often than not. Vis-a-vis the foreign talents, who come here for a stab at pride and glory.

    The climate in Singapore is (still) either sports or studies (except the Sailors who train under a system that allows them to balance both, which I think make their system the only one worthy of ’emulating’). NSAs like STTA *might* have become frustrated at grooming local talents who opt to retire at 18 and happy (to retire) with just a SEA Games gold.

    I think there must be a collective effort by all NSAs and the government especially, in creating and promoting a sustainable sporting culture in Singapore in order to entice our local youths to also commit to being groomed with the money “invested” in them. So its both-ways I’d say. :)

  4. Kaffein says:

    “Life is not all about winning medals.”

    Bingo! Ding!

    Hopefully this goes into the numbskulls of the gov, the STTA and the people running it.

    WorldCup 2010? Dream on. Singapore sports (especially soccer) have fallen to a super low. Money not equal success.

    Good article.


  5. Hi, i am a table tennis player myself.And i totally agree that STTA is somehow rather take the short cut instead of grooming our local talents.
    Example, look at our Mens China cum Singapore team.Don’t even manage to win something.But all of them are China players.So, can the STTA explain to the public why are we using those China men when they can’t produce the result we want?We have our own local guys too, but because the of some dirty things going inside the STTA management, our local guys cannot gain any competition exposure.I really pity Pei feng because she’s a good player but was banned from playing in the beijing Olympic because…. something i know but i cant tell because i am not allow to say.You guys if got chance please visit STTA and dig out their inside stories.Really, i got friends playing inside and alot of dirty stories in them.Lastly, i am not against China, or foriegners.What i am against is our stupid STTA.
    Their management staffs … one word…..

  6. 8percentpa says:

    Choo Wee Khiang step down as president. Was is bcos he supported local talents?

  7. […] Singapore Table Tennis Association general manager Jackie Tay was quoted saying this: Being a role m… […]

  8. Frank frankster says:

    IOC should implemented a ruling whereby foreign born citizen should have obtain their citizenship at least 5 years before they are allowed to take part in the games. At least this is some measures to ensure that the games are not invaded by “mercenaries” motivated by the monetary aspect rather then for personal and national glory…

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