By: 永久浪客/Forever Vagabond
It was earlier reported this year that the Singapore Badminton Association (SBA) has switched its priorities to go for local players instead of recruiting foreign talents to represent Singapore in Badminton.
MP Lee Yi Shyan who stepped down from his post last year as Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development due to a mini stroke, is the man instrumental in re-charting the course of SBA. Mr Lee was the President of SBA until 2 months ago when he also stepped down as its President.
Before he left SBA, he cleaned up the association to focus on grooming local talents to represent Singapore. He told the media that one of the bolder changes he made has been the make-up of the national team.
The last time SBA sponsored a foreign badminton player to receive Singapore citizenship under the Foreign Talent Scheme (FTS) was in 2014. Since then, the SBA has adopted a more inward focus.
Even though with less foreign talents may mean less medals, say in regional games, Mr Lee felt that it was necessary.
“Yes, winning medals is important and if our goal is to win medals at all costs, then maybe we will consider doing something very different,” said Mr Lee. “But we want to take the more difficult route, the more resource-, labour-intensive route of creating capability within our system.”
Derek Wong and Liang Xiaoyu
Indeed, in this year’s Rio Olympics, SBA sent 2 players, local-born Derek Wong and China-born Liang Xiaoyu.
In the case of Liang, she was not “brought in” through FST, unlike the table tennis players in STTA. She came to Singapore with her parents at the age of 10, and attended primary and secondary schools before transferring to the Singapore Sports School and later, Republic Polytechnic.
She worked her way up the ranks to earn a spot in the national team. Furthermore, she is well assimilated into the Singapore society. When asked if she was affected by remarks that she is foreign-born, she said with her voice slightly raised, “I’m not affected because I grew up here since young, It’s not like I came to Singapore so that I could play at the Olympics.”
“All my friends, teachers and coaches are here in Singapore,” she added. “The truth of the matter is I was trained in Singapore. Any results I get are due to being nurtured in Singapore.”
“Once my family and I came to Singapore, we decided to settle down and see this country as home. We never thought of going back to China.”
She aims high for the state of the sport locally, too. “I hope Singapore will reach the same level as other countries strong in badminton. Actually now, there are a lot of countries who didn’t use to be as strong but are now making breakthroughs, like Thailand and South Korea,” she explained. “Now when their players appear at tournaments, everyone sees their country as good in badminton. I hope Singapore will be like this one day.”
SBA to focus on youth development
For foreign-born players, Mr Lee is also in favor of recruiting those who spent much of their growing-up years here rather than as by-products of the FTS.
“It’s harder,” he admitted. “(But) this form of relying on our own players, own system is a more sustainable mode of developing the sport. It will force us to focus on youth development.”
Mr Lee noted that Denmark, which has a similar population size, was able to produce a Thomas Cup-winning side.
He said, “There is a long way to go, but that shouldn’t deter us from pursuing this dream. Therefore, people who come to the SBA must have this passion and idealism that one day, we can also do very well. We have to give ourselves a chance.”
“When I came in, I was a blank sheet of paper ready to do whatever made sense. I always believed in succession planning, in building to last, and in having a sustainable organisation,” Mr Lee said.
“We always have constraints. On the whole, if we have occasional brilliance from time to time from our players, I’ll be quite happy and it’s been rewarding watching them.”
SBA changes tact, what about STTA?
Several years ago, NMP and former national swimmer Joscelin Yeo questioned if a minimum ratio of local athletes versus athletes who graduate under the FST Scheme is needed, to ensure Singapore-born hopefuls have the opportunity to realise their full potential.
But then Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) Vivian Balakrishnan said that Singapore will continue to embrace talented foreign athletes who want to represent the country, as long as they raise the standard of sports in Singapore.
FST application is processed by MCYS and the Singapore Sports Council, with the Ministry of Home Affairs giving final approval for each athlete to gain PR status and subsequent Singapore citizenship. Vivian maintained that there was no need to set a ratio on the number of FSTs in each sport.
At the time when Vivian was the MCYS Minister, it was revealed that badminton and table tennis have the most number of FSTs in their teams with 19 FSTs in badminton and 11 FSTs in table tennis.
Now that SBA has stopped going by the FST approach, what about STTA, our table tennis association?