Why Are We Buying Medals?

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.


About politicalwritings

Someone who sees beyond PAP and "opposition" in Singapore politics. To understand more please see the Top 10 link below.
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21 Responses to Why Are We Buying Medals?

  1. RichDad says:

    Excellent piece! You made the whole Feng Tianwei’s medal issue crystal clear!

  2. Jack Lam says:

    Excellent take!

  3. henry says:

    They are attempting all roundness, from economics,education, arts & drama and sports.
    In this pursuit, time is the essence and they cannot allow nature to dictate its course. KPI are set with a time specific goal.

    This is achieved by importing, and purchases.

    I dont understand why speed is essential in everything they pursue. Yet, speed is not the criteria in allowing more money for developing our own and at our pace. In some instances, they may deliberately slow things down! ( like medical & law school intakes, yet open up quickly for foreign competition).

    To what end does all this help us as a people?
    More money?
    More buses?
    More life?

  4. Ah Kao says:

    If they want to impart a sporting culture, the money is better spent on improving sport facilities. The swimming pools are overcrowded, you have to get up super early to book a badminton court, and there’s no velodrome after all these years. Of course the Singapore Sports Council is also one of the worst run organisations in the country.

    Jogging/cycling tracks, more sporting facilities and stadiums would benefit overall fitness more than to pay some mercenary sportsmen to win medals for Singapore.

  5. Imran says:

    There is something extremely wrong with the bureaucracy’s obsession with results. Results do matter, but what would mean when it is empty of meaning. There is no pride and character in victory went they’re bought. Why is there shame in losing, when it teaches resilience and promotes betterment?

  6. Ting tong kung says:

    Author is shallow, nuff said.

  7. Someone. says:


    Importing talents for the purpose of pursuing medals.

    But what’s the purpose of pursuing the medals in the first place?

    Is it to give Singaporeans a sporting icon to boost the sports scene and unite Singaporeans? This saga seems to be dividing Singaporeans into two camps instead.

    Or is it just the natural target of the KPI-oriented meritocracy society when it comes to goal-setting.

    I suspect the relevant associations don’t really have an answer for themselves, apart from the typical media-friendly simplifications responses. They ought to really reflect on themselves, what are they truely trying to achieve with medal hunt, and if the potential repercussion of divided Singaporeans is worth, what I’d call, a blind hunt for medals.

  8. Denis Wee says:

    Spot-on analysis!

  9. Ace says:

    If Malaysia can produce a Lee Chong Wei and HK can produce a Lee Lai Shan, ask ourselves, why can’t we? Does, “NS for Singaporean and jobs for foreigners” ring a bell?
    In case you are not familiar with who Lee Lai Shan is, the link is here.

  10. Cheng says:

    Hong kong has its own Lee Wai Sze who won a bronze for track cycling this year.
    Taipei has a silver medal in weightlifting by Hsu Shu-ching despite China/IOC removed their flag.
    Malaysia has learnt to specialize in Badminton and Lee Chong Wei has done them proud.
    And look at what we choose to do instead?
    We search for glory hunters who won’t mind draping themselves in flag that means little to them?
    Come-one, come-all gathering of waifs and strays. It gives us the chance to profit from the energy of such imports. Atheletes is going the same way as global economy. Soon, there will be no patriot games.

    Don;t want to take away her personal victory and pride for winning a bronze medal by FTW, but it’s hard to get behind a national team that isn’t made up of your own nation’s people. just make it a pretty hollow victory.

    • Goodboy says:

      In the meanwhile the SIN government believe in their own kool aid. “Built the infrastructure and they will come”, so come billions dollars sport complex and hub . Unfortunately history has shown that it does not work this way. The culture start from sincerely believing in its own people and nurturing them, however the govt more incline to believe that it is better to believe in bring quick result through mass import of ready-made foreigners to boost their own KPI. Tell the world that they have the most advanced sport facility, but beneath the truth is that there is no soul and sustainable passion in it.

  11. MM says:

    Having KPIs is good. But setting a wrong KPI will get the wrong result. Perhaps the correct type of KPI for the NSA is “increase the participation of Primary/Secondary students in the particular sports”.

  12. L says:

    if gold medals is what ppl or the govt wants, i know a faster way to get the gold medals!
    contact royal mint ltd, uk.. order more than 10 got bulk discount!

  13. KAM says:

    The answer is: Nobody asked me.
    I’d rather my son or daughter (pure Singaporean blood) to have a chance to train and become 50th or 60th in the world. No need medals to prove anything. We need to be contented with what we “asian bodies” can acheive without resorting to outsourcing sports achievements.

  14. Jann Goh says:

    It looks like the Government is not willing to develop young local talents because this might have an adverse impact on GDP figures. All locals have to be harvasted as digits in this super economic threadmill machine.

    However since it is necessary to “save face” in international sports arena, and Singapore is flushed with money anyway, let’s just buy in some foreign talents to show some well-roundedness in our human resources development.

    • That’s even more cynical than me…

      • Goodboy says:

        It is more that the inferior PAP government feels so insecure in itself that it need to do quick patch and shortcut by throwing dumb money around to make up for their incompetency and ego, and so they can tell the world that singapore is a miracle. Behind the door, China has the last laugh when they has in fact won both gold and bronze medal in women table tennis , never mind what the Sinners believe in. We know that the govt can believe in their own twisted logic as long as it satisfies their ego and agenda.

  15. This is Anfield says:

    Teach a man how to fish, and he’ll never go hungry. The trouble for Singapore is that we have decided that fishing is such a tedious job, it’s easier to buy the catch from someone else.

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