Tears flowed and there has been non-stop euphoric rejoicing by Singaporeans ever since Joseph Schooling won our country’s first Gold Olympic medal for the 100m buttefly event. The win was made even sweeter by the fact that this awesome champion is our homegrown talent and not an imported foreign sports talent brought here and given instant citizenship purely for the sake of winning medals.
Before the defenders of the “Foreign Sports Talent Scheme” and moralising minority start getting prickly and shout “Xenophobia” let me explain why the reaction by Singaporeans is so vastly different for Joseph vis-à-vis the foreign sports talents.
Firstly, let me state that I understand why there may be a need to import foreign talents for sports and that this is done by other countries too. I also appreciate the fact that all these foreign talents who come here do train very hard (such as the table tennis player Feng Tianwei from China who has sustained serious knee injuries from her training). Most Singaporeans have nothing personal against these foreign sports people. These people took up a great offer from our government and one cannot and should not fault them for that.
Many footballers with talent have also been recruited by national football teams all over the world. These talents add unique strengths and enhance the team play as a whole. It is acceptable to most when a large football team comprises some foreign players. There is no public angst over this here either because the football team is still viewed as a Singaporean team by virtue of the fact that most of the players involved are locals. And many of these foreign players like the former football legend Abbas Saad assimilate well with our home boys and our culture.
Where the public discomfort comes in and when we get turned off is when foreigner sports people are deployed by our government on a highly visible mass scale in small team events and in solo sports events such as in table tennis. IMO, it is time for our government leaders to start asking themselves why is it that so few ordinary Singaporeans (with the exception of people like MP Lee Bee Wah) celebrate when table tennis sports medals are won by PRC-turned-Singaporean players?
Why is there no euphoric explosion of national pride? Why are no tears shed by the people? Is it worth it to keep investing millions of taxpayers dollars to bring in loads of foreign sports talents if it doesn’t arouse our national pride in the same way that Schooling’s triumph has done for our country? I am not saying to stop completely but at least review the objectives, value and quantity to bring in under the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme.
On the difference between the euphoric response by Singaporeans to Schooling and the generally ice-cold non-reaction to the wins by our table tennis team, the answer is pretty clear cut. There is no heart-to-heart connection between us and these PRC-turned-instant Singaporeans. There is little pride felt when a “bought” talent wins just like there is no pride in scoring an A if one had paid another to sit for an exam.
It also does not help that many of these table tennis PRC players behave like foreigners, they come across as unSingaporean and they do not even bother to speak English. I do feel sorry for these foreign players who slogged at training and at the Olympics but the fact remains that most Singaporeans find it hard to identify with them and feel no pride in such “bought” successes.
Instant new citizenships and wearing the Singapore T-shirt may make these foreigners officially Singaporean, but to the rest of the ordinary citizens our hearts feel empty when they win.
It is not xenophobia at all just to make it clear.
When third-generation Singaporean Joseph Schooling won the gold medal, tears of joy flowed spontaneously on countless Singaporeans faces. It wasn’t that we (yes I cried too) decided “Oh we must cry because he is true blue local”. Not at all. Our hearts and minds simply responded with a burst of patriotic pride. The heart just knows when one of our own has done us proud. Our first gold Olympic medal by our local boy. Our local hero! Truly inspiring.
No matter how long it takes, no matter how few our Olympic medals, I think most Singaporeans would prefer grooming more of our homegrown talents than to keep importing foreign sports people enmass. Winning is great but we should take pride in how we win. Some things are just well worth waiting for.