“While an Olympic medal won by a foreign-born athlete representing Singapore, like table tennis player Feng Tianwei, provokes much discourse, the more pertinent question is whether an Olympic medal generates any benefit for Singapore at all” (What’s The Worth Of An Olympic Medal, Mr. Christopher Ong).
The letter “What’s The Worth Of An Olympic Medal?” (August 11, 2012) by Mr. Christopher Ong: the scepticism expressed by the writer is palpable, and the arguments advanced have been putatively articulated by a number of Singaporeans as well. What is the value in the pursuit of sporting excellence? What do these forms of competition yield? What is the purpose of channelling resources into these Olympic activities and efforts? Nonetheless, cognisant of these shortcomings, the power and influence of our Olympians – with their corresponding accolades – are still extremely significant, and can bring about a multitude of unique, sustainable benefits to Singapore.
Singaporean athletes who compete in various meets around the world are in a prime position to galvanise younger, aspiring athletes, as role models for emulation. It is not just about the winning of medals. Participation in the Olympics, in particular, is a tremendous honour and accomplishment; so besides inspiring their younger counterparts to do their best in trainings and performances, the athletes would be able to share their experiences through their years of preparation and competition. Think about how Helena Wong and Lim Heem Wei have smashed conventions, gone against all expectations in weightlifting and gymnastics respectively, and contributed to the promotion and development of the sports nationally.
Mr. Ong also furthered the proposition that “most Singaporeans rank academic or career success above sporting prowess”; however, it is precisely because we are so pedantically obsessed with academic-scholastic achievements per se, that it is imperative for us to open up multiple pathways for young Singaporeans. In a society generally overwhelmed by pragmatism and the predilection to conform, we applaud these sporting representatives who have pursued their passions, and proven that success in Singapore is not premised solely upon school-based endeavours. Our Olympians have not adhered to these traditional moulds, and their recent successes have made it easier for more to confidently follow in their footsteps.
Moreover, the “funding for national athletes” and the “construction of more sports facilities and the improvement of Singaporeans’ access to sports” are not mutually exclusive notions. In fact, I would posit that they are highly complementary, especially in education institutions and the youth sector, where infrastructural development and additional resources will be highly beneficial to both participatory and competitive sports. While there are more areas for improvement – for instance, on National Service (NS) deferment for outstanding male athletes (here) – I believe we are headed in the right direction.
Singaporean athletes have done us proud this time around, and will continue to embody the Olympic spirit of “faster, higher, stronger”. They – on the podium or not – may not bond a nation, but we should not conveniently dismiss the advantages they could bring about.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.