NTUC FAIRPRICE HONOURS SPORTING HERO
A FIRM handshake and an exchange of sunshine smiles were greeted with deafening applause.
And as the long line of photographers froze the event, Mr Tan Howe Liang received a hamper and a cheque for a ‘princely sum’.
Few in the crowd of 500 knew that the $10,000 reward for the former weightlifter was almost the equivalent to his annual salary as a gym supervisor at the Singapore Sports Council (SSC).
The event, organised by NTUC FairPrice at Ang Mo Kio Hub yesterday morning, was to honour Singapore’s Olympic heroes.
The Beijing Olympics silver-medal winning table tennis trio of Ms Li Jiawei, Ms Feng Tianwei and MsWang Yuegu (and reserve Ms Sun Bei Bei) were also at the podium with Mr Tan.
Enough has been said about how the world No2-ranked team broke a 48-year medal drought at the Chinese capital a fortnight ago.
But not enough had been written about why our first silver-medallist (at the 1960 Olympics in Rome) deserved greater recognition.
Until The New Paper highlighted the issue on 16Aug.
We even called for Mr Tan, 75, to be sent to Beijing to witness the historic event.
An SSC official, then in Beijing, when alerted to the article, said last-minute arrangements for sending Mr Tan to the Olympics were not possible because of visa restrictions.
However, Mr Tan’s story touched the heartstrings of many Singaporeans, best of all NTUC FairPrice, whose managing director, Mr Seah Kian Peng, initiated a move to recognise Mr Tan too.
As Mr Seah, who presented the cheque to MrTan, said in his welcome speech at AMK Hub yesterday: ‘Today we are proud to have our Olympic heroes here.
‘As a partner in sports with the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) and to appreciate the athletes for giving of their best to realise the dreams of the nation, FairPrice is proud to present a token of appreciation to the women’s table tennis team.
‘At the same time, we also want to to show our appreciation and recognition to Mr Tan Howe Liang, our other Olympic hero whom I was fortunate and privileged to meet a few weeks ago.’
Representing The New Paper, I was present at that meeting where Mr Seah, also an MP for Marine Parade GRC, got an insight into how MrTan has been managing with his family and work.
Life has not been easy for Mr Tan, who lives in a three-room HDB apartment at Jalan Batu near Kampong Arang, with his wife and daughter.
But he is grateful to the SSC for keeping him in their employ for almost 25 years, now as a gym supervisor in Bedok.
He earns just below $1,000 and gets an allowance of $390 a month from the People’s Association in recognition of his Olympic feat.
Those stark realities about Singapore’s only individual Olympic medallist moved Mr Seah, who said that he would look into the matter.
So far, the SNOC, many corporate sponsors and private bodies and individuals have been supportive of the idea of recognising Mr Tan.
It is understood that one woman, who read about Mr Tan’s situation in The New Paper, has pledged a percentage of her CPF for him.
On hearing this, Mr Tan said: ‘I am not in dire straits. My daughter, who is a teacher, helps out.
‘But, of course, such monetary rewards would help me a long way.
‘Sports is great for personal satisfaction, community bonding and building bridges.
‘If we want to show our youth that sports pays, there must be recognition and a reward scheme.’
And as he headed home after the event, he whispered: ‘I will give this money to my wife for her medical expenses.’