Sports stories I enjoy reading, and the ones that I hate…

Here’s an example of a local sports report that I would enjoy reading:

Quak keen to mix it up with the big boys (TODAY, 04 March 2009)

 

By Ian De Cotta

 

THE Young Lions have the youngest squad in the 12-team competition — the average age of the 25-player roster is 19.5 years — but they’ve been punching above their weight in their opening two matches of the Great Eastern S-League 2009 season.

 

They held the Super Reds, last season’s runners-up, to a 0-0 draw at Yishun Stadium two weeks ago and only conceded a late equaliser to DPMM in a 1-1 draw at Jalan Besar Stadium last Friday.

 

Tonight, the Young Lions travel to Woodlands Wellington for their third match of the season and coach Thambiah Pathmanathan’s turks will be out to make another good impression.

 

Apart from defender Obadin Aikhena of Nigeria, the players are all vying for a place in Singapore’s under-23 squad headed to Laos for this December’s SEA Games. Among them is promising left-winger Gabriel Quak, who has caught the eye with some solid displays.

 

The 1.76m-tall midfielder, who turned 18 in December, has impressed since joining the Young Lions at the start of last season with his sharp eye for openings. He isn’t afraid to shoot on sight, but at 62kg, Quak does struggle with beefier opponents.

 

Said Pathmanathan: “Gabriel’s advantage is that he is a natural left-footer and he is fast. In the last two games he has shown several nice touches, but it is obvious he lacks the bulk that is preventing him from becoming a real force in midfield.

 

“We are working on helping him to correct that problem.”

 

Quak said he is now “working hard” with a fitness trainer to bulk up, but he has a problem most people would envy.

 

“I’ve been trying to put on weight, but no matter how much I eat, I don’t seem to get heavier,” he said.

 

“I think my metabolism rate is high.”

 

The 18-year-old is not short on confidence, however. With the dressing room buzzing about the chance to line up for Singapore in Laos, the team is determined to better their ninth-place finish last season.

 

“We’re a bunch of fighters, I think that is the advantage of being young,”said Quak.

 

“The squad is full of confidence that we can surprise the other more experienced teams at every match. I think we can do better than our first two matches when we travel to Woodlands Stadium.”

 

Although Quak is pursuing an engineering diploma at Republic Polytechnic, he’s now thinking seriously about making professional football his career.

 

“People I meet are a little surprised when they find out what I want to do,” he said. “They are under the impression that as a Chinese boy I would prefer to get a cushy high-paying job than be a professional footballer.”

 

Why? I think the reason is obvious enough. It’s about the development of local talent and more importantly to me, it keeps track of the progress of the sort of footballer that Singapore has suffered a dearth of in the past decade – the Chinese footballer.

As I have said before, my interest in tracking the progress of young, promising Chinese footballers is not due to the fact that  I am Chinese.

Instead, it’s because of our current situation which sees the bulk of our national teams being formed by players from just 20 percent of the population.

Not only does this  suggest that something is not quite right with our national scouting and talent development systems, it has also resulted in our current over-reliance on foreign talents to make up the rest of the national squad.

I am sure there are many young Chinese footballing talents out there in our playing fields who have not been discovered for one reason or another.

It’s the same with young Indian footballing talents.

The playing fields of Sembawang and Naval Base used to be teeming with them. But these days, the young, up and coming Indian footballer seems to be a rarity, a species fast facing extinction.

This is an alarming development which even Home United coach and former Football Association of Singapore technical director P. N Sivaji has publicly expressed his concerns about.

In a recent interview with Tabla, the weekly newspaper for the Indian community, he said: “Indian youths are into dancing these days. It’s very sad because there was so much talent at one time. We have to do something.” (Tabla, 6 February 2009).

So, yes, it is good to be able to read about the progress of the young, up-and-coming Chinese footballers in our national teams. This report about Gabriel Quak’s progress really made my morning.

I am now eagerly awaiting for the day I get to read about future Terry Pathmanathans, V. Sundramoorthys and R. Suriamurthis being discovered and groomed.

Which brings me to the next part of my post, namely on the sort of sports stories that I hate reading:

Passing of the torch (The Straits Times, 4 March 2009)

 

By Terrence Voon

 

WHEN the All-England Championships get underway today, it will signal the end of an era for Singapore badminton – and the beginning of a new one of young shuttlers.

 

Missing from the team list are stalwarts like Ronald Susilo and Kendrick Lee, who are on the verge of retirement after showing much early potential.

 

Women’s doubles specialists Li Yujia, 26, and Jiang Yanmei, 28, are also out, with the latter having retired.

 

Singapore’s best men’s doubles pair, Hendri Saputra, 27, and Hendra Wijaya, 23, the 2007 South-east Asia Games bronze medallists, have been left out by the coaches.

 

Their absence points to a tough time at one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious tournaments, where Singapore will not be fielding a player in the men’s singles for the first time since 2000.

 

Said Singapore Badminton Association (SBA) high performance manager Jim Hui: ‘This is a squad in transition.

 

‘As far as results are concerned, we have not pressured them. The most important thing is to give them exposure.’

 

Susilo, Singapore‘s brightest hope since four-time All-England champion Wong Peng Soon in the 1950s, will call time on his career next year without fulfilling much of his promise.

 

The 29-year-old achieved his highest world ranking of No. 6 after winning the 2004 Japan Open. He also ousted then-world champion Lin Dan en route to the quarter-finals of the Olympics that year.

 

Lee, his would-be successor, was the 2002 World Junior runner-up. But, apart from winning the 2004 US Open and a silver at the 2007 SEA Games, the one-time world No. 14 did not have much success.

 

Still only 24, he has decided that his studies come first.

 

In their place, a new breed of youngsters are taking their first steps on the big stage – starting this week. Six of the seven-member squad will be making their All-England debut.

 

They include Thai-born youngster Chayut Triyachart, 19, who will partner Shinta Mulia Sari, 20, in the mixed doubles.

 

Yao Lei, 18, who won the women’s doubles gold with Fu Mingtian at last year’s World Junior Championships, is partnering Shinta this time round.

 

The other women’s pair are Vanessa Neo, 22, and Frances Liu, 24.

 

In the women’s singles, Fu, 18, will have to negotiate the qualifying rounds.

 

Xing Aiying, only 19 but arguably the most experienced player in the squad, takes her place in the main draw. She and the pairing of Yao and Shinta are the only players in the world’s top 50.

 

In contrast, last year’s four-member squad were all ranked in the top 50.

 

‘This is a young team,’ said Hui. ‘Given time, they have a good chance of being as good as their predecessors.’

 

 Do you know that it has been about 13 years since the Singapore Badminton Association first drafted in its first batch of young foreign shuttlers to be groomed and developed into future Singapore players?

 

That group of China-born teenage female shuttlers included Frances Liu, Li Li, Xiao Muxi and Xiao Luxi. 

 

It’s now 2009 but it seems as though nothing has changed.

 

One would expect to see a number of local shuttlers in the national squads but the Singapore Badminton Association is clearly still overly-reliant on foreign talents to carry the Singapore flag on the international stage.

 

Look at the current squad: the only local shuttler in the team going to the All-England Championships is Vanessa Neo. The rest are naturalised citizens.

 

The fact that most of them are still in their late teens suggests that they are going to be donning national colours for quite a few more years.

 

Isn’t this a ridiculous situation?

 

Don’t get me wrong – I am not criticising the Foreign Talent Scheme here. Reluctantly, I concede that it is a neccessary (but much abused) evil to help raise the playing standards of our national teams and to lay the foundations for the development of future local talent.

 

But this is clearly not the situation with our national badminton teams. It’s unbelievable. Twelve years on and all Singapore Badminton has to show for local talent is one Vanessa Neo?

 

Even if Kendrick Lee had not gone into semi-retirement, all that means is that there are only TWO local faces in our senior national squad.

 

Doesn’t say very much about its efforts to develop local talent in the past 12 years, does it?

 

Instead, what we have is a national squad made up of names that are completely alien to us.

 

How do you expect me then, an avid fan of Singapore sports to support my national badminton team at the All-England when it is made up of three China-born naturalised citizens, a former Thai national and a former Indonesian? 

 

This is why I hate reading stories like this. All it reveals to me is the current pathetic state of local talent development in Singapore badminton. 

 

Here’s some food for thought for the SBA: if after 12 years, you are still not able to produce a squad of local talents, then perhaps it is time to start lowering your sights.

 

Maybe it’s time to forget about competing in all the big tournaments and trying to win the big prizes.

 

Maybe it’s time to start working on developing a (very) small pool of local players and getting them to do well at regional or Asian level.

 

Then maybe, just maybe, it will be a joy again to read badminton stories in the newspapers. 

 

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan

 

Related links:

 

28 Jan 2009 – Two rays of hope for the aspiring young Singapore Chinese footballer?

 

23 June 2008 – Wanted: a 20 percent cap on FSTs and a reality check for some NSAs                                                         

 

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