This report appeared in The Straits Times earlier this week:
Swimmer Shana gives AYG a miss (The Straits Times, 3 June 2009)
SWIMMER Shana Lim, who was slated to compete in the 50m and 100m backstroke events at the Asian Youth Games, has been replaced by Deborah Chua.
Shana, 16, is a Hwa Chong International student who will be sitting for her O levels at year-end.
Her parents had cited academic reasons for her withdrawal from the June 29-July 7 Games.
Singapore Swimming Association president Jeffrey Leow said: ‘We respect the decision by Shana and her parents.’
Deborah will compete in the 50m, 100m, and 200m backstroke at the Singapore Sports School pool, where the AYG swimming competition will be staged.
Deborah, 16, is in her first year at Raffles Institution (Junior College).
This was a really small story which appeared on Wednesday’s edition of The Straits Times. It was tucked away in a corner and dwarfed by a huge report on the flag-presentation ceremony for Singapore’s Asian Youth Games athletes. And as such, I won’t be surprised if many of us missed it.
But to me, it just spoke volumes of the uphill – in fact, practically near impossible – battle to change certain mindsets in Singapore.
The bigwigs of Singapore sport can talk all they want about wanting to turn Singapore into a world-class sporting hub, about creating a sporting culture in Singapore, and using the success of foreign talents to drill a sense of sporting pride in Singaporeans and inspire local athletes to aspire to similar heights.
But at the end of the day, talented swimmer Shana Lim’s decision to withdraw from the AYG contingent just shows the reality of the situation: in Singapore, sports will always rank a distant second to academic success in our list of priorities in life.
In fact, I am not even sure if it ranks second at all.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not criticising Shana at all.
Rather, I applaud her for making what must have been a painful personal sacrifice. Shana is one of Singapore’s top swimmers and I do hope to see her in action not only at next year’s Youth Olympic Games but also at future SEA and Asian Games.
But her decision just shows that in the end, getting good academic results is the all-important priority in Singapore.
Because at the end of the day, not everybody can be a top world-class athlete, and not everyone can earn a proper living from being a professional athlete.
More significantly, not everyone will be willing to take up the route that the Singapore Sports Council has mapped out for its national athletes which can be summed up like this: you focus on sports first, we will help you to complete your education later and we will also help you to find a job with an employer who is pro-sports.
This is the cold hard reality of Singapore life, and until the Government goes out of its way to do something about this, and makes a huge song and dance about it, there will be little it can do to stop many young athletes from choosing to concentrate on their studies.
What must be done?
Well, in vague terms, I guess the powers-that-be must create a total and complete support system – a holistic super structure that covers every area and loose end – to show how Singapore’s top youth athletes that they will never lose out to their peers if they decide to pursue sports.
And then they must use this super-structure, to create convincing examples of top athletes who have benefitted handsomely from these support schemes.
I know: it’s easier said than done, and it’s all too easy to criticise and say that the authorities are not doing enough.
I don’t have the answers.
All I know is that the Singapore Sports School is one small part of the solution. And hopefully the future Sports Institute, which is taking forever to be conceptualised and built, will be another piece in the jigsaw.
But what are the other pieces?
Drop me a comment if you have a idea or a possible solution.
Yours in sport
Singapore Sports Fan