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In an open field

Let’s be perfect honest, the Tokyo Olympics have been pretty disappointing for Singapore’s athletes. After winning our first ever gold medal five years ago in Rio De Janeiro, the closest we came to getting a sniff of a medal came from Ms. Yu Mengyu, who reached the semi-finals but lost and then failed to get the bronze.

I guess you could say that there was bound to be a certain level of disappointment, particularly after the euphoria of winning our gold medal at the Rio games in 2016. If you take sports as a metaphor for life, you’ll understand that athletes have their good days and their bad days. The “best-in-the-world,” can falter on the world stage. Take the top three best male tennis players in the world, namely Roger Federer, Rafale Nadal and Novak Djokovic as examples. These men have won 20-grand slams each and chances are they’ll beat most of the guys that come up against them. However, as the Tokyo Olympics have shown, even Mr. Djokovic, who is currently the best player of the three, can lose to relative unknowns.

Any nation can produce a “world star.” However, not every nation can produce world stars consistently. The consistence is more often than not a question of the country that has the best available infrastructure to develop talent. In the old days, the Olympics was about who had the best system to consistently produce top class athletes as much as it was about the actual athletes. It was either the capitalist system of the USA or the state sponsored system of the USSR, which to a certain extent has been replaced by China.

Consistent success is also about management. New Zealand’s formidable All Black Rugby Union team is exceedingly well managed. The All Blacks have a 75 percent winning record against all major rivals and that is despite the fact that New Zealand only has a population of three over million. Manchester United used to dominate everything in the English Premier League when it had one good manager (Sir Alex Ferguson) and promptly slid down the ranks when he was succeeded by less competent managers.

At their very best, sports allow us to express our competitive energies into something peaceful. Nations can fight it out on a sports field rather than on the battlefield like the example of India-Pakistan cricket matches or England-Germany football matches (The English like to remind the Germans that they won both World Wars and the Germans point out that they’ve won four world cups to England’s one).

Unfortunately, just as sports has the ability to bring out the best in human nature, it also has the ability to bring out the worst in us. England’s football fans, for example, have the ability to behave in a way that negates any success that England’s football team may have on the pitch. Sports administrators have a talent for corruption, as has been seen in the ugly side of how host nations for big sporting events like the Olympics and FIFA World Cup are decided.

Politicians, are unfortunately, part of the sporting scene and have been known to be part of the worst aspects of sports and our politicians had a pretty disappointing Olympics in the same way that our athletes did.

Take Mr. Edwin Tong, our Minister for Community, Culture and Youth as an example. Mr. Tong came out to give some encouragement to our athletes. Told people not to get nasty in their criticism and even told all of us to give our former gold medal winner, Mr. Joseph Schooling, some space after failing to defend his crown.

He should have left it at that. However, Mr. Tong had to talk about “athletes do have a responsibility to be accountable” and went as far as to mention that “Of course, when they perform badly, I think they have to stand up for it and they have to explain.” The full report of Mr. Tong’s remarks can be seen at: [LINK]

They were beaten in front of the world’s cameras – how much more accountable can you get? – Copyright Today/AFP

While Mr. Tong may not be wrong to talk about accountability, he was using the wrong people as examples.

Say what you like about our athletes but they are operating in a ruthless environment. For all the talk about “friendly” competition, our Olympians are competing against the best in the world instead of the best in Singapore or even the best in ASEAN.

The reality for our Olympic athletes is that every TV camera on the planet is focused on them. They perform for a global audience and every nitty-gritty detail of their performance is up for scrutiny. Each and everyone of our Olympic athletes has been held up to the most rigorous of standards. Sure, I’m not saying that all athletes are clean and honest. I’m old enough to remember how Canadian Sprinter Ben Johnson (who was once the fastest man ever) was disgraced in front of the world.

Mr. Tong’s message, should instead, have been aimed at another group – his fellow politicians. Politicians have certain luxuries that athletes don’t have. The measurements that politicians have to live up to, for example, are less stringent.

Do politicians have to face the “best-in-the-world?” The answer is never. Politicians argue that theirs is a “local” profession and only those who have the “local loyalties” can compete in politics. We all know that Joseph Schooling is a world-class swimmer because he beat Michael Phelps, who is considered to be the “Greatest-Ever.” Who does Lee Hsien Loong compete against to prove he is a world-class Prime Minister? Our first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, used to justify everything he did by the fact that he was “elected.” What he forgot to mention was that he was consistently fighting against an opposition that he had amputated and used every trick in the book to cripple. The results of a Singapore election are forgone, the opposition only fights to be opposition. The same cannot be said for a swimming or running race.

Are the world’s cameras focused on the performance of politicians? Did our politicians invite the cameras to show us how they were making the decision to bail out dormitory operators and to allow KTV lounges to “pivot” towards being food and beverage outlets?

The accounting standards of athletes is pretty obvious. When you do badly, your “fans” will show their obvious displeasure. Think of the Brazilian soccer team that was humiliated by Germany in the 2014 World Cup that was held in Brazil. Not only were they humiliated by having seven goals against them (could have been more, the Germans agreed at half time not to score too many more as a face-saving measure), they were booed off the pitch by 78,838 people in the Maracanã Stadium. Highlights from that match can be seen at: [LINK]

When our Covid-19 cases started to spike up again, did anyone boo the politicians? Sure, there were plenty of grumbles on the net but that was pretty much it. In fact, the Magically Unconflicted writer and enforcer of laws proceeded to dress down people who expected him to do his job.

What does a nation lose when there is a disappointment on the pitch? Perhaps national pride is hurt. But other than that, there’s no actual damage to the country. It’s not so when it comes to politicians who screw up. So, why is it such that we’re holding our athletes to higher standards than our politicians? Mr. Tong should spend less time asking our athletes to be accountable and more time trying to ensure that we have a culture where politicians are held to the same high standards as athletes.

 

Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be.

 

 

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READER COMMENTS BELOW

15 Responses to “In an open field”

  • #08-193 Huang Ba Dan Always:

    Why don’t others step up to the plate? Instead of sitting there and beeech about Schooling’s performance.

    Is the guy obligated to win Again and again for Singapore? What, he owe us ?

    Is he the one to achieve for those critics’ pipe dreams? Ask your parents sponsor your US training lah!

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  • #08-193 Huang Ba Dan Always:

    “When our Covid-19 cases started to spike up again, did anyone boo the politicians? Sure, there were plenty of grumbles on the net but that was pretty much it. In fact, the Magically Unconflicted writer and enforcer of laws proceeded to dress down people who expected him to do his job.”

    Nah. Some biz ASSociations joined in the call to blame the unvaccinated. That’s why you shoulddn’t feel sorry if all these stores close down. They deserve it as they care about money only. Human turds.

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  • Temusik Patriot:

    Tangfastic…Lie Con You not only cripple but Destroys the families of his opponents in the course of his evil bastard that he is.You are doing fine with your contributions stay in course n go for Broke with a opposition party
    PsP maybe???

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  • Tremendous:

    Absolutely.
    101 participating villages.
    These village was in the bottom 16 despite being one of the richest villages by GDP.
    With sports villagers failing to get a medal, it’s clear the chiefs are the problem.
    This chief still thinks he was right to declare 500k for his parents in law not enough.
    Ask him to tell the village chief to be accountable for all the mess created when the disease came.

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  • Be REAL:

    ET and his other fellow politicians is just a bunch of wimp.

    When strike gold, they waste no time to claim credits and even paraded the prize in pariahment for display of glory,

    When home coming empty handed, he talked, talked … to try to rationalise the terribly let down even called people ugly for making comments he doesn’t like to hear.

    Sport is highly competitive especially at the international level. If one is not well prepared and up to scratch, one is not going to win at all. PERIOD

    Don’t yek, yek, yek! Nothing is going to change the reality.

    OK?

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  • SG is only good in....:

    Riding on the hugely successful foundations laid down by first generation leaders especially Lee Kuan Yew.This also applies to the many GLC CEOs from banks to Temasek and GIC (actually not sure about Temasek and GIC).

    The success will not last forever if the current generation of leaders have no ideas how to drive the country forward especially economy which is based on population import.

    Compare Singapore Olympics performance with the small countries/regions such as HK, Taiwan,and small European and Latin countries it is dismay results.

    I am pessimistic about future of Singapore. US is not trustworthy, China has Taiwan, Macau and HK to take care of – will China give concessions to Singapore in terms of trade, etc?

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  • opposition dude:

    Oh well, no one will ever forget Goh Chok Tong’s famous words of making te World Cup in 2010 now will they?

    HA HA HA!

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  • DeBarge:

    I guess Edwin Tong had to say something. As you say he didn’t know when to stop. Sadly he is displaying the lack of connection between the leaders and the people. For Edwin at least I can say he made it in the private sector before becoming minister. There are a few like him in the cabinet. The rest are just lucky or merely shrewd in their life choices. They aren’t particularly impressive, Tharman aside. That isn’t good for Singapore.

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  • you're right!:

    well said, Tang Li!!
    This is the fella who wanted Team Singapore to be in the World Cup in the not so distant future. Let’s wait and see what kind of accountabilities he possesses other than using his big wide gab to achieve what the other clown has failed!!

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  • 5 stars!:

    Five stars for the bold expression. How many dare to give such an honest comments!

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  • Billy ma:

    For a start, drastically reduces the funding for football.
    The state of the local football is worse than many war torn countries, this speaks volumes of the quality of the organisation & players alike.

    Don’t throw any more good money for bad.
    It’s time to get rid of funding thru pure sentiment.

    There’re many sports & players who deserve bigger & better support from the government.
    At least these sports & players qualified for major events & competitions, so it’s high time that funding be put to better use.

    Football? Pay me $100 & I won’t even want to go to a local match.

    See also vomit blood.

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  • AristoCATs say - Ouch !:

    >> “We all know that Joseph Schooling is a world-class swimmer because he beat Michael Phelps,
    who is considered to be the “Greatest-Ever.”
    Who does Lee Hsien Loong compete against to prove he is a world-class Prime Minister? ”
    -
    Ouch !

    Yeah, with highest salary in the world!
    -
    More than 39% should know the Power of the Ballot Box !

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  • kaji:

    Perhaps it is time for FOREIGN TALENT to be extended to include politicians from international arena.

    After all, the pay and perks can definitely attract the best of the best.

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  • Do sg feel tax money pain?:

    I wonder do singaporeans feel pocket burnt when tax money spent?
    If not, there’s the problem!
    NIMBY.

    Pure ignorance.

    Lives could have been saved using those
    Money.

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  • Heaven has eyes:

    #08-193 Huang Ba Dan Always:
    Why don’t others step up to the plate? Instead of sitting there and beeech about Schooling’s performance.

    Is the guy obligated to win Again and again for Singapore? What, he owe us ?

    Is he the one to achieve for those critics’ pipe dreams? Ask your parents sponsor your US training lah!

    So so sp0t on!

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