This report appeared in today’s edition of The Straits Times (17 Feb 2009):
Promising shuttler quits
Badminton officials told him to become a citizen or leave squad
By Terrence Voon
ONE of Singapore’s rising foreign badminton talents has quit the national team, complaining that he was told to either take up citizenship or go.
Doubles specialist Riky Widianto, 17, who has been here since 2005, flew home to Indonesia yesterday after tendering his resignation to the Singapore Badminton Association (SBA) earlier this month.
Badminton officials had wanted him to become Singaporean in time to represent the country at this year’s South-east Asia Games, but Riky said his parents felt he was too young to make the move.
‘I wanted to stay and fulfil my dream as a badminton champion for Singapore,’ he told The Straits Times. ‘But I had no choice because the association told me I had to become a citizen now, or quit.
‘My family told me to wait another year or two, but the SBA couldn’t wait.’
The full-time player was also unhappy with his monthly pay of $1,350, saying it was barely enough to cover his living expenses.
They included his $400 monthly room rent at the Singapore Sports School, and $350 a month for catered meals there.
The Surabaya native said he was sad to leave Singapore and his friends, but did not want to defy his family’s wishes.
Asked if Riky had been given an ultimatum, SBA chief executive Edwin Pang told The Straits Times: ‘We advised him to resign if he did not want to switch citizenship.’
He explained that the shuttler had been earmarked not only for the SEA Games, but also the World Junior Championships, Asian and Commonwealth Games next year.
Let me tell you a story. I read it in The New Paper during the Chinse New Year period. It was an account by Jessie Phua, president of the Singapore Bowling Federation (SBF), about the problems she faced trying to get a certain amount of funding from the Singapore Sports Council for 2006.
At that time, Singapore Bowling didn’t have a great 2005, returning from the 2005 SEA Games without a single gold medal. Phua knew that the lack of success at the Manila Games would have an impact on the amount of funding that the SBF would be getting from the SSC the following year.
So she decided to put up a more modest budget instead, one that cut out all the fat and yet was enough to adequately prepare her top bowlers for the 2006 Asian Games.
To her shock, the SSC rejected her budget. She submitted an even leaner budget. And was stunned when the SSC rejected that one too.
In the end, she got fed up – and bit back. She told the SSC official that Singapore Bowling would not be sending any bowlers to the Asian Games simply because the funding the SBF will be getting will not be enough to prepare her bolwers for the Asiad.
The SSC official spluttered in shock. “You can’t do that!” he said.
She replied: “Watch me. And I will call a press conference tomorrow to tell everyone why I am doing this, and how the SSC has forced me to do so.”
She didn’t need to call the press conference in the end. Because the next day, the SSC told her that it was approving her original budget.
What’s this story to do with the Singapore Badminton Association telling Indonesian teenage shuttler Riky Widiato that he had to take up Singapore citizenship this year or be axed from the national squad?
Well, I think that one reason why the SBA desperately needed Widiato to take up citizenship was because it must have felt that the teen would raise its chances of winning a medal at this year’s SEA Games.
And why would that be important? So that its funding from the SSC for the next financial year would not be cut.
From my chats with a number of sports officials, it seems that the only way a national sports association can improve or maintain the amount of funding it gets from the SSC is by achieving success on the international stage.
I am also given to understand from my sources that, in an effort to wean itself from its long-time dependence on foreign talent, the SBA had recently asked the SSC if its annual would be affected funding if it made local talent development its main priority instead.
In other words, could it still get the same amount of funding even though it would not be able to guarantee any international success for the next few years.
I am given to understand that the SSC said no.
So you see, the SBA ends up appearing in today’s Straits Times for all the wrong reasons as a result of its desperate efforts to ensure some sort of success at this year’s SEA Games.
But whose fault is it ultimately that the SBA has to end up appearing so pathetically desperate in the first place? And whose fault is it that the SBA has to, in the first place, resort to grooming young foreign talent in the hope that they will one day represent Singapore on the international stage
Yours in sport
Singapore Sports Fan