Wednesday 15 August 2012

Here's what an Olympic medal is worth...

THE best rejoinder to Mr Christopher Ong's scepticism about the ability of sports achievements to forge national unity ("What's the worth of an Olympic medal?"; last Saturday) happened last Friday.

This was the rapturous homecoming that greeted Team Singapore upon their arrival at the airport from the London Olympics, which was a testimony to the support of Singaporeans.

If Mr Ong missed that newsmaking event, he may have also missed the widespread and unequivocal cheers our returning Olympians received in their victory parade throughout the island.

I know because I was at the airport to welcome them home. I was also at one of the heartland stops - Jurong Point - and witnessed the cheers among mall shoppers.

If Mr Ong had been at one of these places, he would have found it hard to insist that athletes aren't worth funding because they offer no tangible reward for the country.

It was obvious to me that bronze-medal-winning table tennis Olympian Feng Tianwei has won Singaporean hearts.

Mr Ong argued that the value of sports is not significant in Singapore because its ability to foster national pride is far less pronounced here than in countries such as China, where the collective passion is palpable.

China sees more nationalistic fervour than Singapore simply because we are a much younger nation. And that is why we must try harder, and not abandon the cause.

What is precisely needed for a young nation like Singapore is to have victories such as these to build support and encouragement for athletes.

Apart from National Day celebrations and the Prime Minister's National Day Rally speech, what else can spur Singaporeans everywhere to cheer and show their love for the country?

Everybody loves a winner, especially a big winner - and thus far, the national table tennis players are the only athletes who have done it in world-class style.

It is a feat we should cheer.

Phillip Tan Fong Lip
ST Forum, 14 Aug 2012

MR CHRISTOPHER Ong's scepticism is palpable ("What's the worth of an Olympic medal?"; last Saturday), and he is not alone in questioning the national value of pursuing sporting excellence.

While he asks valid questions about the payoff of competitive sports and the purpose of channelling resources into Olympic activities, the power and influence of our Olympians and their achievements are significant and offer rare, sustainable national gains.

Athletes who compete internationally are in a prime position to be role models for aspiring athletes.

Olympic participation is, in itself, a rare honour and achievement; it is not only about winning medals.

Apart from inspiring younger Singaporeans to do their best, Olympians will be able to share their experiences and pass on their knowledge.

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 their sports nationally.

Mr Ong said most Singaporeans rank academic or career success above sporting prowess. But it is precisely because we are obsessed with the paper chase and safe, well-paying jobs that we must Open multiple pathways for the young.

In a society generally overwhelmed by pragmatism and the predilection to conform, we should applaud those athletes who have pursued their passions, and proven that success is not premised solely upon school-based endeavours.

Our Olympians have bucked the trend, and their recent successes have made it easier for more to follow.

Moreover, funding athletes and building more sports facilities and improving mass access to sports are not mutually exclusive but complementary, especially in educational institutions and the youth sector, where infrastructural development and additional resources will benefit mass as well as competitive sports.

While there are areas for improvement, for instance, on national service deferment for outstanding male athletes, we are headed in the right direction.

Singaporean athletes have done us proud in the London Olympics, and will continue to embody the Olympic spirit of "faster, higher, stronger".

Kwan Jin Yao
ST Forum, 14 Aug 2012

Not as sports-crazy as China? Imagine these...

MR CHRISTOPHER Ong is sceptical that Singaporean medal achievements in the Olympic Games will create a surge of national pride or unite the people ("What's the worth of an Olympic medal?"; last Saturday).

He concluded that the notion of national sporting accomplishments uniting the nation is overblown.

Allow me to show, with examples, how wrong he is.

If Singapore were playing against Brazil for an Olympic football gold medal, my bet is that almost every Singaporean would be watching the match on TV. The roads would be empty; every pub with a TV set would be packed; life, as we know it, would stand still while Singaporeans cheer on the Lions. And if Singapore beat Brazil... need I say more?

I am certain no one will begrudge these athletes whatever monetary rewards they deserve for winning an Olympic medal.

And if we have a world-record-shattering athlete like Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt in the 100m, or a multiple-medal-winning swimmer like American Michael Phelps, or even a silver-winning shuttler like Malaysian's Lee Chong Wei, I would be surprised if Mr Ong's assertion will still hold; that Singaporeans will be less enthused than the Chinese about sporting achievements or their contribution to unity.

We should therefore encourage every national athlete to excel and to know that the country supports them in financing their training and rewarding them for their achievements.

As a small nation, we can aim to punch above our weight in sports and make it the lifeblood of the country as well.

David Foo
ST Forum, 14 Aug 2012

Permanent measures of Olympic achievement

IN MATERIAL terms, the worth of an Olympic medal is unmeasurable and it is indeed meretricious to quantify it in some of the reference terms Mr Christopher Ong uses, namely, promotion of investment and tourism ("What's the worth of an Olympic medal?"; last Saturday).

Rather, an Olympic medal's worth is more immeasurable than unmeasurable. In the arduous process of its attainment, it is uplifting and edifying to the national psyche to experience vicariously the sacrifice and devotion athletes need to put in for success, with each accomplishment adding some thrill to our daily lives.

Yes, national joy and celebration are ephemeral, but pride in the realisation that we can compete at the highest level is permanent.

Singapore has been an unqualified success when it comes to financial and academic achievements, equal to the very best in the arena. Such success is not serendipitous, with every achievement coming at the immense expense of immaculate planning and monetary investment. Success at future Olympics will not come easily or cheaply.

I have come across visitors' dismissive comments that all of Singapore's beauty is man-made, contrived and therefore not as worthy as nature's gift, a charge also levelled at our Olympic medal winners.

Unfortunately, from the cynical viewpoint, nothing innately natural about Singapore is ineffably beautiful or stupendously awesome, with the exception of its geographical location. It seems as churlish to pour scorn on our efforts to improve our island with thoughtfully erected edifices as it is to improve the local genome with imported talent.

When I was a medical student, many of our professors were foreigners. Well-trained and indelibly influenced by them, true-blue Singaporean professors, as erudite as any in the world, now helm the medical faculty.

Similarly, in due time, once a winning sporting tradition has been established, native Singaporeans will stand upon the podium to receive their due accolades.

Finally, Mr Ong's suggestion, that funding for national athletes be channelled into the construction of more sports facilities and the improvement of Singaporeans' access to sports, would have gained far more traction 30 years ago.

At present, one would be hard put to find many other countries as amply endowed as ours is, as far as easy and cheap access to first-rate public gyms, courts, pools and tracks is concerned.

Dr Yik Keng Yeong
ST Forum, 14 Aug 2012

A teen's defence of an Olympian dream...

AN OLYMPIC medal's worth and value cannot be measured by any monetary means ("What's the worth of an Olympic medal?" by Mr Christopher Ong; last Saturday). Rather, it carries an intangible value that has a profound effect on the people of the nation.

The medals won, although bronze, inspire the next generation of undiscovered sporting talent. They will also inspire those from all walks of life to push themselves beyond their perceived limits.

The incentives offered to medal-winning athletes should be seen as a form of appreciation. If athletes should not be rewarded, then should an artist, passionate about his work, not be remunerated? Should a musician who spends eight hours a day honing his skills not be paid for performing on concert tours?

Incentives are given out partly due to the need for more athletes.

One very likely reason for the lack of athletes is our society's overemphasis on academic pursuits, resulting in the devaluing of sports.

I agree that academic pursuits are important because they drive our country. But what use is a strong man with little or no soul? The soul of a nation comes from its unity, which can be easily achieved through the country's sporting excellence. We, as a nation, can be united through sports when we sweat for our country and cheer our fellow countrymen on.

Another likely reason for the lack of athletes is the unwillingness of citizens to give up their weekends, social life and the promise of a stable job for the unexplored fields of sports, where few get selected; even for these few, there is no certainty of winning medals or a stable post-sports career.

For that, we must applaud our athletes, including aspiring ones, whether they win medals or not. For they have the courage to go into the unknown and to believe.

As a 14-year-old, I remain inspired.

Foo Jia Yuan
ST Forum, 14 Aug 2012

What's the worth of an Olympic medal?

WHILE an Olympic medal won by a foreign-born athlete representing Singapore, like table tennis player Feng Tianwei, provokes much discourse ("Singapore is a sports weakling because of lack of will, not size" by Dr Vincent Tan Yan Fu; last Saturday), the more pertinent question is whether an Olympic medal generates any benefit for Singapore at all.

Some may argue that national athletes offer the same kind of intangible gain as National Day celebrations.

By creating a surge of national pride whenever they win trophies, they unite the people behind them, so the argument goes.

However, this effect is far less pronounced in Singapore than in other countries such as China, where the nationalistic fervour is palpable.

Judging by the tepid reaction in 2010 to the inaugural Youth Olympic Games, the average Singaporean's attitude towards national achievements ranges from mild enthusiasm to undisguised apathy.

This is compounded by the fact that most Singaporeans rank academic or career success above sporting prowess.

Thus, we cannot be united in lionising our athletes and celebrating their victories.

Indeed, as demonstrated by recent events, medals earned by foreign-born athletes can have a polemical, rather than a unifying, effect by pitting pro- and anti-foreigner camps against each other in a series of vituperative online exchanges.

Therefore, the argument that national sporting accomplishments unite the nation is overblown.

Also, supporters of our national athletes contend that they raise Singapore's profile abroad.

However, the plethora of events at the Olympics and other major sporting events usually results in individual medal achievements being consigned to the footnotes of history.

Even if such vaunted elevation of Singapore's profile does happen, it is largely meretricious as it probably does little to promote investment and tourism in Singapore.

Foreigners travel to China to see the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, not to watch its medal-bedecked table tennis team play and train.

So national athletes are more like ornaments than dividend-paying investments.

The funding for national athletes ought to be channelled into the construction of more sports facilities and the improvement of Singaporeans' access to sports.

This will yield tangible results in the form of improved public health and lower medical costs stemming from lifestyle-related ailments.

Christopher Ong
ST Forum, 11 Aug 2012

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