Wanted: a 20 percent cap on FSTs and a reality check for some NSAs

The report:

In his letter to The Sunday Times (‘Have a 20 percent cap on Foreign Sports Talents’, 22 June 2008 ), Calvin Ng argued for a 20 percent cap on the number of foreign sports talents (FSTs) for every national team. The current state of Singapore sport, which has resulted in the women’s national table tennis team being labelled “China Team B” and a higher-ranked FST being chosen over Kendrick Lee, Singapore’s best local shuttler, for the Olympics, is sending wrong signals to our aspiring and budding athletes. A 20 percent cap is perhaps the best way to go for Singapore as we will reap the benefits of having them yet avoid having too many of them around.  

My thoughts:

Kudos to Calvin Ng for a well-argued letter to The Sunday Times.  We could do with more such letters being published and more such sentiments being strongly expressed so that the powers-that-be will sit up and take notice, and more importantly, be jolted into taking action.

As a Singaporean who is deeply concerned about our local sports scene, I can say, hand on heart, that I will be able to live with a 20 percent cap on FSTs in all national teams. 

At least that would be more palatable than the current situation at some national sports associations – like the Singapore Table Tennis Association, and the Singapore Badminton Association, for example.

Can someone help answer this question for me? How did the STTA and the SBA ever come to the flawed conclusion that they have to be of world-class standards when clearly, they don’t have the resources or talent base to do so.

How did the STTA ever come to think this way when Singapore had no prior history or tradition of competing at the highest levels in the sport?

Same for the SBA.

Of course, it can hark back to the 1950s when the likes of Wong Peng Soon and Ong Poh Lim won All-England titles and led Singapore to numerous Thomas Cup finals and triumphs.

But remember, Singapore was part of Malaya then, which means the country had a wider talent base of players to choose from. For a much better idea of the state of Singapore badminton, just ask yourself: what did Singapore produce in the four decades after that, apart from Wong Shoot Keat’s 1983 SEA Games win? (Answer: nothing much else).

One can roughly guess the time when the STTA and the SBA started to invest heavily in foreign talent.

For the STTA, it was probably in 1997 after the national men’s and women’s teams won four golds, three silvers and a bronze at the Commonwealth Championships. Prior to that, Singapore had never won a medal at the competition. The team also featured two naturalised citizens – Jing Junhong and Li Jiawei.

I guess when the STTA saw what could be achieved with the infusion of foreign talent into its teams, it got blinded by grand ambition and decided to go all out in that direction in the pursuit of more sporting riches.

Nor did it help that it was expressedly encouraged by the Singapore Sports Council who promised to continue to increase its financial support of the NSA so long as it continued to build on its success.

Likewise, the SBA increasingly went along the FST route and filled its ranks with a bunch of young shuttlers from China and Indonesia after then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong set the target of Singapore reaching the 2012 Thomas Cup finals during his National Day Rally speech in 1999.

But in doing so, they have produced national teams that are not only filled with naturalised citizens but which are also completely alien to Singaporeans.

For example, look at this picture which I took from www.sttnews.blogspot.com :

These are the paddlers who will be representing us at the Olympics. Erm… can you spot any native Singaporeans in it?

Likewise, can you spot any local-born shuttler in this picture of the women’s national badminton team at the last Asian Games? ( picture taken from www.ssc.gov.sg )

Is it any wonder then that Singaporeans are reportedly indifferent towards our successes in badminton and table-tennis?

So I state my point again: why must a National Sports Association (NSA) aspire to be world-class when it clearly does not have the local talent to be so? And why must the solution to this be the relentless pursuit of a foreign talent development programme?

Instead, why can’t an NSA realistically take stock of its situation (and place in the world) and say: “Right, we’re going to be a power at SEA Games level, and with a bit of luck, we may actually do well at Asian Games level. So why don’t we focus on devleoping and producing a pool of local talents to help us achieve these aims?”

Nothing wrong with that – it’s called setting realistic targets and doggedly pursuing these goals. Thailand is a prime example of a country that has done just that in badminton.

Even though the Thailand Badminton Association receives minimal funding and is a poor cousin to other sports like football, athletics and snooker, it has still produced a world-top 10 player in Boonsak Polsana, and two Asian Games silver-medal winning partnerships in Pramote Teerawiwatan and Siripong Siripool (1998 ) and Pramote and Tesana Panvisvas (2002).

So who says we can’t do the same? Who says local talents can’t do it if the right infrastructures, and programmes are put in place? We may be a small country but hey, let’s look at what we’ve produce over the last three decades:

Three world bowling champions in Remy Ong, Jesmine Ho and Adeline Wee

– A European Tour champion in golfer Mardan Marmat

– A former 50m freestyle world champion in Ang Peng Siong

– A South-east Asian Games badminton champion in Wong Shoon Keat, and most recently, a SEA Games men’s singles finalist in Kendrick Lee

– An Asian Games 400m champion in runner Chee Swee Lee

Asian Games sailing champions in Ben Tan, Joan Huang, Siew Shaw Her etc

– A seven-time SEA Games champion thrower in James Wong

Three Commonwealth Games champions in shooting

I don’t understand: why can’t some NSAs just be more realistic of our strengths and limitations in their planning for sporting glory, instead of pursuing a foreign-talent development programme that purports to make us something that we are not, does little for national pride, and is a festering source of embarrassment??

Lokk at what SingaporeSailing and the Singapore Shooting Association have done: they put their faith in local youths, worked out a development programme for them, and are now starting to see the fruits of their strategic labour: a string of world youth and Commonwealth Games champions and medallists in the past two years and very bright futures ahead. 

As for the other NSAs (including the STTA and the SBA), I’m fine with a 20 percent cap on FSTs.

After all, if the sport needs that little extra boost to get to the next stage, so that young budding talents will continue to be inspired to become future national players, and if that boost can come from recruiting a few FSTs into the team, then yes, by all means, do so.

Just don’t abuse the FST strategy and then try to pull the wool over our eyes by describing as a “Singaporean’ national squad when it is filled to the hilt with FSTs.

Because Singaporeans are not dumb or blind. They know deception when they see it.

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan

Related links:

18 June: Singapore table tennis – is there more – or less – than meets the eye?

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2 thoughts on “Wanted: a 20 percent cap on FSTs and a reality check for some NSAs

  1. […] 23 June – Wanted: a 20 per cent cap on FSTs and a reality check for some NSAs […]

  2. […] 23 June 2008 – Wanted: a 20 percent cap on FSTs and a reality check for some NSAs                                                          […]

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