You may have heard this story before:
After 5 years of continual rejection, the writer finally lands a publishing deal. Her book sales are now in excess of $2 billion. Only William Shakespeare has sold more. Who was this writer? Agatha Christie. The outcome may not be that rosy for the majority of budding writers, but from the time we first read The Ugly Duckling, we have adored stories like that. Understandably, there is a temptation for “revenge” on the part of the rejected gem. Why would you make it easy for people who have once rejected you? Would you not have shown your middle finger to the publishers when they ate their words and come knocking on your door? I probably would have.
Let’s get to the point. On 12 August 2016, Singaporean swimmer Joseph Schooling, age 21, made history at the Rio Olympics. With a time of 50.39 seconds, he won a gold medal in the 100m butterfly finals. I was trekking in Indonesia then. Had I watched Schooling’s race and the victory ceremony with our national anthem being played, our flag being hoisted and Schooling singing the national anthem, I would have cried like so many of my friends did.
This is Singapore’s first-ever Olympic gold medal and its first medal of any colour in swimming. For his Olympic gold, Schooling was awarded S$1 million by the Singapore National Olympic Council, with 20% of it going to the Singapore Swimming Association. Schooling also became the first swimmer (male or female) from Southeast Asia to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming. How’s that for a national celebration?
After we’ve wiped our tears of joy (and some have swallowed their ping pong balls), a host of other feelings started creeping in. Some of these feelings will make us cry all over again. Apart from the pride and elation which we still feel, there is also guilt and remorse. Why? Well, while our Singaporean identity has no doubt been reinforced by Joseph Schooling’s victory, how much have we as fellow Singaporeans and taxpayers, contributed to it? You may be surprised. Not much. Check out Abel Soh’s input on Facebook.
Frankly, I feel a bit ashamed of myself – like one of the publishers who had rejected Agatha Christie’s novel. Like most of us exposed to the local media with all the justifications for foreigners holding top posts and climbing Everest before getting Singapore citizenship, I have been guilty of the 本地姜不辣 mentality. I didn’t expect Schooling to beat the great Micheal Phleps. If I had believed in Schooling and had confidence in him, I would have felt even better and prouder. I would have even been qualified to say “I told you so”.
But unlike the guilty souls like you and me, MP Lee Bee Wah seemed to imply that she had contributed to Schooling’s victory by asking MINDEF to defer elite male athletes.
Yao mo gao chor ah? That doesn’t sound like the Lee Bee Wah I know and with this sort of claim coming from her, I’m really concerned. Has the woman swallowed her ping pong balls so quickly after stepping down from her post at the Singapore Table Tennis Association for only 2 years? Did Schooling get even a fraction of the financial support that her paddlers did? Why has she bounced from the table tennis table to the swimming pool? Shouldn’t she be supporting our imported paddlers since she’s such a grandmotherly figure to their children? Alas, the unenviable job of heading the now lustreless STTA is in the hands of Ms Ellen Lee who is currently safe from political liabilities after stepping down as MP before GE2015.
Sure, we should consider sending Lee Bee Wah for events like the long jump or pole vaulting, but let’s set the record straight for the young man. Schooling’s journey to the Olympics is one that has been hampered by numerous setbacks and bureaucratic obstacles put in place by the very lawmakers who basked in his glory after his victory. Schooling’s first major setback came in 2008 when the Singapore Swimming Association shut down its Centre of Excellence (COE) after coaches John Dempsey and Jack Simon quit under highly controversial (political) circumstances. Father Colin Schooling was convinced by ex-COE coach Jack Simon that the US was where Joseph’s Olympic dream lay. The Schoolings, who had to bear his school fees, expenses, transport and accommodation costs, took a leap of faith in 2009 and sent their only child abroad.
Schooling has been training overseas in the United State since he was 14, with his family spending about S$1.35 million (raised from selling their house) for his overseas education, accommodation and training. The money he has earned through the Olympics is still considerably less than what his family has invested in his swimming career.
And as if all that was not enough, Joseph Schooling’s coming of age also meant another thing – his National Service liability which could spell the end of his swimming career as it almost did for former champion Ang Peng Siong. So how did Joseph Schooling’s deferment from NS come about? Did it even have anything to do with Lee Bee Wah? To set another record straight, it was a long, tough battle with Mrs Schooling leading the charge. This is how Mrs Schooling told it to Yahoo News.
Determined to not have their son’s progress possibly derailed by NS, the Schoolings opened talks in 2010 with the then-Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports as well as the Singapore National Olympic Council.
“They asked if he can serve six months (three months of basic and vocational training each) then go back to the States to train,” May revealed to Yahoo Singapore.
That would still affect his performance, according to her.
“I told them very clearly: I’m trying to teach my son to be loyal to this country,” said May. “But why should he be loyal to a country that doesn’t even support him when he wants to achieve swimming success for (it)?”
“[In a way] if you represent the country and make people stand for your flag, you’re doing ‘national service’,” she added.
May, however, stressed that they “never pushed for swimming to be a substitute for NS” — in fact, her son should eventually serve NS like any Singaporean man, she said.
But the real clincher, according to May, was the assistance that poured in from all corners of the globe.
“Top authorities in the world came in to help us and supply us with all the information we needed,” she said.
“For example, Gregg Troy, the men’s head coach at USA swimming then, and Bill Sweetenham, who was an advisor to the Singapore Sports Council, all wrote letters supporting Joseph.”
“They’re the ones who can see talent, and they say he will be world-class,” she added.
The complete article can be found here. One more reason to cry. Make no mistake, the Schoolings fought a long, hard and lonely battle with the the bureaucrats, roping in foreign experts to lend support to their cause. Where were our MPs and ministers? And where were we the citizens of Singapore when they needed funding? Some have argued that it’s not fair to expect taxpayers to risk our money on Schooling. So why did the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme spend millions on foreign athletes with the assumption that they would win medals? Isn’t this a pathetic case of 长他人志气，灭自己威风?
Our newsPAPer can really speak the language that Singaporeans understand. Money! Some of us shed tears of joy, some of us shed tears of guilt and some of us are kicking themselves for having missed an investment opportunity. Instances where previously uninvolved individuals trying to bask in Schooling’s glory by showering him with praises have been exposed all over social media. I won’t go into detail, but there’s another late praise singer who threw a pie in our faces.
Mr Tan Chuan Jin said that Joseph Schooling’s achievement exemplifies the “Singapore spirit”: “Our never-say-die attitude, and our determination to persevere and succeed against tough odds.”
“I believe Joseph’s win can inspire young Singaporeans to chase the rainbow and go after their dreams, even in areas outside of sports. The journey may be difficult, and it will require hard work and sacrifice. But with hard work, grit and determination, we can achieve great things.”
Yao mo gao chor ah? Why is Mr Tan Chuan Jin bouncing the ping pong ball of the “Singapore spirit” into Joseph Schooling’s court. Does Schooling’s tortuous path to success even close to anything typically Singaporean? For what is “Singaporean”, Mr Tan only needs to look at himself in the mirror.
That’s the Singaporean spirit. Impress them with your academic results, get a scholarship, enter the civil service, put in the hours, do what is expected, toe the line and pick up your promotions when they are due. For the rest who are not as talented, toe the line all the same and you’ll have an ice rice bowl. Start a business? Can you afford to pay up for your Medisave? HSA? NEA? LTA? Alamak! That’s the Singaporean spirit I know. Would any Singaporean sell his house to send his son to the US to train for an Olympic medal? Would any Singaporean dare to challenge the rigid system, bring in foreign experts to wrestle with the authoritative non-experts? This sounds more like Chee Soon Juan to me.
For over a decade, our people have suffered great humiliation. Foreign athletes have been brought/bought in to win medals for us. Nobody bothered to look into the reasons for our own people not pursuing sports. Regardless of how the media drummed it up, the feeling of elation was feeble at best, absent at worst. Outside the arena, our very own highly experienced PMETs have been relegated to driving taxis and cleaning tables at food courts while cheaper, socio-politically non-committal foreigners deemed to be more suitable for the posts took over from them. Is this a sign of meritocracy? Have we really considered all possible Singaporean candidates for the position of CEO before giving it to a foreigner?
Olympic record breaking swimmer Joseph Schooling said on 16 Aug 2016 that he was thinking of a professional career in the United States. He said that he would be able to to focus on training at a high level if he was based in that country.
The second year University of Texas (UT) student told AFP, “I’m going to finish my education up in UT, get my diploma, and then we can talk about turning pro, that’s the plan. I imagine it’ll be super hard for me to live in Singapore and train and perform… I just think in the US, I’m more suited, or I’m more used to the US training style now, the environment and everything. I’ve got a good thing going, why change it?”
That doesn’t surprise me, but it’s another reason to cry or at least lament. Will we lose him? I don’t know, but even if he gets the same treatment as our table tennis stars, Schooling cannot stay in a place that is not conducive to his swimming career. He definitely didn’t get where he is now by being the typical Singaporean. He can only grow in the environment that nurtured him into the champion he is. And unless you embrace the kiasu, kiasi, gian png Singaporean spirit, your future probably lies beyond our shores.
Six in 10 young people have considered looking beyond Singapore to achieve their dreams, said a newly released Singapore Polytechnic survey.
Their top reasons for having considered going overseas included the high cost of living here, having more opportunities and a slower pace of life overseas. Respondents were not asked to specify if they were leaving for good or just for a period of time to work or study overseas.
The survey also polled young people on their hopes for Singapore. They listed three priorities: An affordable place to live in, a society that defines success beyond academic and material achievements and a more fulfilling pace of life, which could include having a slower pace of life.
© Chan Joon Yee