I have a poser for my fellow Singaporeans. Our women’s table tennis national team comprise virtually China-born Foreign Sports Talents (FSTs) and some have derisively labelled them as ‘China Team B’.
Suppose the team, heavily tipped to clinch a medal at the upcoming Olympics, did just that. Will we adore them as much as Tan Howe Liang, our only Olympic medallist?
Or will our initial sense of pride in the victory, if any, be quashed by jibes that we are bound to receive in the aftermath? I envisage the latter scenario.
Not only will there be diluted pride in seeing a national team comprising mostly FSTs win, but having too many of them also contradicts our call for young children to take up sports.
Recently, our best local-born badminton player, Kendrick Lee, was denied the chance to represent the country in the Beijing Games because a higher-ranked FST was chosen.
Next, six soccer players from the starting XI in both our recent matches against Uzbekistan were FSTs.
Erroneous signals are thus being sent out to our aspiring and budding athletes, who might be less motivated to strive hard because of the slim chances of being selected for the national teams.
Consequently, we would have an even smaller pool of promising local athletes and would therefore have to import even more FSTs. This vicious circle goes on. I hope not to see the day when the entire Team Singapore are made up of FSTs.
The remedy? Implement a 20 per cent cap on FSTs for every national team.
We will then be able to reap the benefits of having FSTs, yet avoid the problem of having too many of them.
In my letter on May 18, I had proposed for a balance of local and foreign-born athletes to be formalised in the form of a cap. Disappointingly, the authorities, like the MCYS and SSC, have turned a deaf ear to this call.
Granted, our chances of a victory may be reduced if we are to implement a cap. However, sport is not all about winning. Participation counts too. Isn’t this the reason why the authorities launched the recent ‘Let’s Play’ movement?
Moreover, we have shown that we do not need great sporting success to be a vibrant sporting nation. The fact that we had won the rights to host the upcoming F1 Grand Prix and the 2010 YOG, despite not being a sporting powerhouse, is testament to this.
Unlike other fields, like bio-technology, sporting success, or the lack thereof, does not directly affect Singapore’s economy. I hope to hear from the authorities on the disadvantages of having a cap on FSTs.
Calvin Ng Li Wei