I think I’ve found what I consider to be the best letter that has been written about the entire STTA saga to date. I spotted it in today’s edition of The New Paper, and I just found myself nodding my head again and again as I read it.
It’s by TNP reader Mark Koh Fu MIng and it distills the controversy to its very essence – a clash of values:
“I refer to the article “Can of worms already there” (The New Paper, 28 Aug) on the table tennis saga.
“I feel that Singaporeans should not be blinded by the success of the Singapore women’s table tennis team and be disillusioned by the fundamental principles that have been ignored as a result of wanting success in the women’s event.
“While a player should be able to play without his coach present, such resources should never be lacking in the first place.
“I think it is both unfair to the men’s table tennis team as well as contrary to the Olympic values of sportsmanship, for head coach to justify the situation by claiming that he “would rather the women come in second and the men come in 16th than have both teams come in fourth.”
If Singapore’s participation in the Olympics is all about winning medals, then I am saddened that it is in pursuit of sporting glory without caring a whim about the Olympic values of xcelence, firendship, and respect.
“As a nation, we should allocate equal resources to sportsmen who represent us – regardless of ability – for sporting glory. That is the least we can do in respecting those individuals who have sacrificed so much just to represent our country.
“The table tennis saga has indeed opened a can of worms.
“If in the table tennis team, the men are neglected in terms of resources because the women have a higher chance of sporting success, then would this not imply that, in the future, Singaporeans will be neglected, and resources will be allocated to foreign talent who are deemed to be potentially more capable of achieving sporting excellence?
“With Singapore hosting the Youth Olympics in 2010, I think the nation has to reflect on this relentless pursuit of sporting glory and the means that we resort to in achieving such success.
“How are we going to educate the youths of the world about the Olympic ideals when this entire fiasco has shown our mercenary attitude towards achieving success?”
– From “Champions of a different set of values” (The New Paper, 29 Aug 2008)
Absolutely brilliant, Mark, and absolutely spot on. And kudos too to The New Paper for publishing this letter.
Why is this letter important?
Simply this: one can continue to debate about who was right or wrong in the “Gao Ning” controversy but the bottom line, I feel, is that this current fiasco represents the perfect time – and the perfect opportunity – for the new STTA regime to take a stand and decide what are its values with regards to the development of the sport in Singapore and the pursuit of sporting excellence.
We now know what the old STTA regime stood for. It was clearly indicated in head coach Liu Guodong’s behaviour and his quotes over the past two days.
Liu even conceded that his relationship with the men’s team went to pieces because he favoured the women. But it is immaterial, he said, because his target was to get a medal and he had delivered.
In yesterday’s edition of The Straits Times, Liu was also quoted as saying that he would now only consider staying on as head coach if he is given the following assurances about his role:
“I need space to do my job. I need to be able to make decisions that won’t be second-guessed. And I can’t have people trying to disrupt what I am trying to achieve here.”
– From “Now Undecided” (The Straits Times, 28 August 2008)
In other words, Liu is unrepentent about how he went about achieving the feat of winning Singapore’s first Olympic medal since 1960. And he wants to continue to do things his way.
Now, the new STTA regime has to decide: does it want this kind of coaching philosophy to continue?
It’s cold, brutal and cynical but hey, it delivers results, doesn’t it?
So is this what the STTA wants ultimately as it seeks to build upon the foundations for excellence laid down by the women’s team silver medal win?
Is this good for the long-term interests of the sport?
What does this mean for the development of local talent especially when one knows that our local paddlers will probably never be good enough to compete at Olympic level.
These are tough questions. Once answered, they will not only form the STTA’s guiding principles for the governance of the sport in Singapore, but could well also form the blueprint for the pursuit of sporting glory for all other national sports associations.
Now, that’s a scary thought..
So keep your eyes opened over the next few days or months.
Because you could well be witnessing either the re-birth of the development of local table-tennis talent – and Singapore sport in general – or hearing its death knell.
Yours in sport
Singapore Sports Fan