This report came out on Channel News Asia yesterday:
Li Jiawei may not be featured in 2009 SEA Games (Channel News Asia, 24 Feb 2009)
By Patwant Singh
SINGAPORE: They delivered an Olympic silver medal last year, but Li Jiawei and Wang Yuegu may miss the upcoming SEA Games in Laos in December.
Since 1999, Li Jiawei has been a permanent fixture at the SEA Games, delivering many gold medals for Singapore.
But this year in Laos, she and team-mate Wang Yuegu may not be part of the five-member women’s team.
The Singapore Table Tennis Association said it is looking at a combination of local and foreign talents to lead the charge.
Among them are 19-year-old Zena Sim, 15-year-old Isabelle Li and 16-year-old Pang Xuejie, all students from the Singapore Sports School.
President of the Singapore Table Tennis Association, Lee Bee Wah, said: “Definitely Zena and Xuejie will be in. We are also looking at the possibility of fielding Isabelle. It will depend on whether they are ready or not.”
Member of the National Youth Team, Isabelle Li, said: “My personal aim is to close the gap between the local talents and foreign athletes… We are given a lot of support from the association, (and) sports school.”
But the association is not taking the SEA Games lightly.
Manager for high performance at the Singapore Table Tennis Association, Eddy Tay, said: “We are not compromising, so that’s why we are still keeping our three top senior players in the SEA Games squad.”
The women’s team will still have Feng Tianwei, who will be playing in her first SEA Games. She is ranked sixth in the world, while Li Jiawei is ranked seventh.
Other possible members are Yu Mengyu and Sun Beibei.
Feng said: “SEA Games is very important to us. If the senior players are not going, I will have to take up the leadership and lead the younger players at this SEA Games. Of course there is additional pressure, but I will try my best.”
Singapore won a record seven gold medals at the last SEA Games in Korat, Thailand. Whether the new team, to be selected by September, will be able to match that performance is still left to be seen.
The Singapore Table Tennis Association has given the assurance that it will give local born players more playing time at the SEA Games.
Bravo, Singapore Table Tennis Association, and kudos to all of you for living up to your promises of trying to develop more local talent for the national men and women’s teams.
I am sure that the likes of Zena Sim and Isabelle Li will benefit greatly from being part of the five-women team to Laos. Now my only hope is that the two teenagers will not only get a lot more playing time during the SEA Games, but will also get to feature in the more crucial ties.
In previous years, because of the previous STTA’s single-minded pursuit of sporting glory to the exclusion of everything else, local talent would only get token representation in the national teams.
The STTA would select teens like Jason Ho, Pang Xue Jie, Jenn Lim Pei Qi and Zena for the SEA or Commonwealth Games so as to create the pathetic illusion that local players are indeed being included in the national teams.
They would play in the easier group matches before being made to sit out the rest of the competition when their teams advanced to the quarter and semi-finals and then the finals.
This time, the STTA has promised to give the local players more playing time at the SEA Games.
I do hope that this promise translates into them being given the chance to compete in the more crucial stages so that they know what it is like to play under intense pressure.
And I would really take my hat off to the STTA if either Isabelle or Zena is selected to play in the team final, if Singapore does make it that far.
It’s probably unlikely though.
After all, a team gold at the SEA Games is worth $20,000 under the Singapore National Olympic Council’s Multi-million dollar Award Programme (MAP).
As such, the STTA would probably want to field their strongest side to ensure that the $20,000 is as good as won, for the sake of all the members and coaches of the team.
My hope is that the STTA will be enlightened enough to field Zena or Isabelle in the final, especially if they think that that either one of them is good enough to deliver one of the winning points for the team.
For that will truly be a new psychological breakthrough not just for the STTA but more importantly, for the many young talented local paddlers back home who dream of becoming national players one day.
Yours in sport
Singapore Sports Fan