In recent days, the media has been devoting a lot of column inches to describing 2008 as the best year ever for Singapore sport.
And it’s hard not to see why.
Singapore won its first Olympic medal – a silver – in 48 years at this year’s Beijing Olympics through the women’s table-tennis team while Tao Li became the first Singapore swimmer to qualify for a swimming final and even won a World Cup gold.
We even had our first-ever Paralympic champion in disabled swimmer Yip Pin Xiu.
Golfer Lam Chih Beng won his first Asian Tour Masters title and became the first Singaporean to go all four rounds at the British Open.
And not only did we land the hosting rights for the inaugural 2010 Youth Olympics, our first F1 night race was a spectacular success, acclaimed all over the world as this year’s best race on the circuit.
But here’s a letter from a reader of The Straits Times which I felt was a timely reminder of the state of Singapore sports.
Wipe away the feel-good magic dust from our eyes and one still sees that there are many areas in Singapore sport that still need to be worked on, areas which have resulted in our having to import foreign talent to help us to achieve some of our sporting successes.
In other words, while Singapore may have made a mark on the international sporting stage this year, there are still many areas for improvement. And if we don’t work on hese areas, Singapore sport will forever remain in its current situation.
Let us not blind ourselves to this fact.
I thought I’d share this letter with you as the year comes to a gradual close:
Singapore can learn from Netherlands (The Straits Times, 30 Dec 2008)
EARLIER this month, I was surprised to read that the Football Association of Singapore will give each local club a subsidy of $2,000 a month to hire foreign players.
A constructive discussion is needed to explore the wisdom of this policy of attracting foreign talent.
I am interested in a fundamental question: Where is Singapore’s homegrown sports talent? Is our population too small, justifying the need to import foreign-born athletes?
To find the answer, it is helpful to look at another ‘small’ nation which has successfully cultivated numerous sports talent: the Netherlands. It has a population of 16 million, about four times that of Singapore. Despite its size, it has produced some of the world’s finest footballers. Older fans will remember Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten and Dennis Bergkamp, while the younger generation marvel at Ruud van Nistelrooy and Edwin van der Sar. The Dutch national football team is praised for its quality and attractive playing style.
The Netherlands not only has great football players but also excels in other sports. In the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, it won seven gold medals and finished just outside the top 10, above bigger countries like Spain.
If population size is a benchmark, then Singapore should be able to achieve at least 25 per cent of what the Dutch have done.
The secret lies in its integrated national sports policy. It goes far beyond providing scholarships.
To put it simply, the government recognises the importance of sports as a unifying force in society and values success in sports as much as academic achievement. It supports potential athletes throughout their life: from infrastructure to develop talent to education in a career after their sporting success. Young talents do not have to choose between a career in sports and their studies or work: They can have both. Businesses play their part by combining training and work schedules.
In essence, young hopeful sport talents in the Netherlands do not sacrifice their future but enhance it by pursuing their passion for sport.
Talented Singapore athletes often drop out long before they hit their full potential because of studies or career. Too often, they say ‘no’ to a sports career and choose the usual life route.
I ask the Government to develop a long-term strategic vision and plan to develop locally born and bred talent. It must steer away from pragmatic ‘quick-win’ solutions like recruiting foreign talent. Pragmatism may work in the short term, but it is no long-term sustainable solution.
More important, solutions like the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme do not inspire Singapore as a nation.
Lim Hing Kock
Yours in sport
Singapore Sports Fan