This report appeared in today’s edition of The Straits Times:
Zhang ‘sacked’ by SBA
(The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2011)
By Jonathan Wong
NATIONAL shuttler Zhang Beiwen has paid the price for her string of disciplinary problems.
The 20-year-old, who has been serving a suspension since Jan 5 – the second time in six months the Singapore Badminton Association (SBA) has punished her – was informed by the association that her contract, which expires next Thursday, will not be extended.
‘It was not renewed,’ Zhang confirmed to The Straits Times last night. ‘I have a lot of thoughts about this decision but I don’t want to talk about it… There’s no use talking about it.’
Officials at the SBA declined to comment when contacted yesterday.
Zhang’s latest punishment arose after an alleged falling-out with singles chief coach Luan Ching, who felt that she had again defied his orders by breaking curfew over the New Year period.
Described in the past as a ‘problematic player’, Zhang was subsequently dropped from the national squad and barred from all training sessions since the start of the year.
Last May, she had received a three-month suspension without pay for displaying a poor attitude in training and tournaments, and for failing to carry out instructions from her coach.
The China-born Zhang came to Singapore in 2003 under the Foreign Sports Talent scheme and took up citizenship in 2007 when she was part of the Singapore squad that clinched a team bronze at the World Youth Championships.
But in April 2008, she walked out on the national team to play for various clubs in countries like Malaysia and Taiwan.
She was eventually persuaded to return seven months later and made her South-east Asia Games debut in December 2009, helping Singapore to a team bronze medal.
Once the country’s highest-ranked women’s singles player at world No. 28 last year, she was a notable absentee from the Republic’s team sheet at both the Malaysian Open and Korea Open in January and also the prestigious All-England Championships earlier this month.
Her ranking, however, has since dropped to No. 74, making her the lowest-ranked shuttler in the SBA stable that include compatriots Gu Juan (No.32), Fu Mingtian (42), Chen Jiayuan (48) and Xing Aiying (59).
But her ability on the badminton courts is unquestioned. At the Hong Kong Open last December, her last competitive outing, she took a set off then-world No. 1 Wang Xin of China before losing in three games.
While her chequered past has been well documented, Zhang’s future remains murky. When asked if she intends to stay in Singapore or return to China, she was again evasive.
‘I’m still thinking about it, nothing is confirmed yet,’ she said.
What are the chances of the sacked Zhang Beiwen going back to China?
Very high, I suspect, especially if she does not have any other academic or coaching qualifications to help her to make a living in Singapore.
And when she does, another red Singapore passport will be thrown into a rubbish bin because the athlete no longer has a need for it.
I am not blaming Zhang in this instance. If she has no family here, she will have no choice but to leave.
Her case reminds me of how throwers Du Xianhui and Zhang Guirong had to leave Singapore for China in 2006 after being dropped by the Singapore Athletics Association.
But in the past decade, we have also witnessed other FSTs who left Singapore on their own accord soon after getting their citizenship.
Three immediately spring to mind:
* Zhang Xueling (table tennis), who became a citizen in 2001 but left in 2007 to get married in China after winning a string of Commonwealth and SEA Games titles;
* thrower Dong Enxin who went AWOL in 2007 after getting his citizenship in 2001; and
* Xiao Luxi (badminton) who quit in 2004, a year after getting her citizenship, to go back to China because she was burnt out.
And what about the six hockey players from China who were recruited for the national women’s team back in the early years of the new millennium? I hear most have since returned to their country of birth after things did not pan out.
And I am sure there will be more examples to come in the coming years.
Bottom line: this is what the blessed Foreign Sports Talent scheme has effectively reduced our Singapore citizenship to — a cheap bauble easily given away to foreign-born athletes, most of whom, in turn, will easily cast it aside when they no longer have any use for it.
My deepest thanks to all these national sports associations who actively recruit foreign-born athletes to fill their national squads, for helping me to realise just how cheap my citizenship can be.
I am grateful, really I am.
Yours in sport
Singapore Sports Fan