So much of the talk is about whether Singapore should be proud of Feng Tianwei’s bronze medal because she’s not a “true-blue” Singaporean.
To the extent that they have forgotten the actors behind the scenes.
The SSC. MCYS. And effectively, the Government of Singapore.
It is well-known that Singapore has spent tremendous amounts of money to lure top athletes to come to Singapore, take up citizenship and compete for Singapore.
No one has asked why.
They’ve bitched about how the money could be better spent on developing ‘local’ talent. But they’ve not really asked, why do we want to import foreign talent.
The answer is not, (local) talent no enough.
Ask yourself: why is Singapore so desperate to win gold medals?
Is it what the people really want? Or is it what the Govt thinks the people want? Or is it what the Govt wants?
If gold medals are what the people really want, then I’d say the best way to achieve it is to do what the Govt did– give foreign atheletes all kinds of benefits: fast-track citizenship, free tuition, free English lessons, free coaching, training allowances, sponsored training, rewards for performance, etc.
But I’m not sure that’s what the Singapore people really really want.
I think it is the Govt’s achievement-oriented philosophy at work.
It’s the culture of KPI’s and performance targets, driven by high-flying scholars and civil servants, that’s created this intense desire to win medals by bringing in foreign athletes.
The same culture that dictates National Sports Associations will not get funding from the SSC unless they show continuous results improvements, unless they present acceptable annual plans, etc.
Ditto for athletes, no state funding for them unless they show good results.
Hence the whole culture of the Govt, insofar as sports is concerned, is to set KPI’s and targets, do what it takes to bring in potential winners, fund what sports associations they think can bring in medals, cut the losers, cut losses early.
So if Singaporeans accept this culture—which by the way is the same as other ministries, eg education, trade and industry—then Singaporeans should celebrate Feng’s medal. Because it shows our civil servants have met their KPI.
They should not begrudge Feng her victory, nor cast it as a foreigner vs true-blue local debate, because Feng was recruited to do a job for Singapore Inc, and she delivered.
However, I would like to ask Singaporeans to think hard about whether they really really want gold medals, or whether sports should be something else, such as community bonding, health and recreation.
Because if Singaporeans don’t signal what they want to the Govt, it will continue to assume medals are what we want, and more foreign-born athletes will be sent to win medals in Singapore’s name.