- Do we really not have local talent to play regionally?
- Passion and it’s lack thereof in “amateur professionalism”
- Employers attitude towards sports is not helpful
Much has been said over the last few weeks about Singapore’s Foreign Talent Identification scheme for sports, and also how Singapore Badminton is now being accused of ‘poaching’ talent across the causeway with lures of University scholarships and the like. This is not new no matter where you are, in fact these things happen across the world in sport on a daily basis, but then again, nothing uniquely Singaporean. Singapore’s recent football win over Malaysia shows we have the local talent to do it regionally, but then again do we?
The support staff of the National Football team has a very eastern European flavor to it, and let’s be clear off the bat. I am not critical of having foreign know-how to come in and elevate the teams. Up to last weekend’s win, there have been constant calls for the incumbent coach to step aside and let a local born coach in. The calls for a replacement have died down now with victory, but they will come sooner rather than later.
It’s interesting to note that since Fandi Ahmad left as the assistant coach a few years ago, there has not been a local coach involved actively in the set up as an assistant coach of a skills coach. So here’s my question: Why are we not fully tapping the expertise of foreign coaches by twining them with up and coming local coaches? The knowledge transfer should and would be two way, between both foreign and local coaches, and then both benefit from the experience.
Having foreign coaches is not the issue, the issue is to put in place a framework that local talent can be natured and tap the foreign expertise during the time the coach is there. Football in Singapore is a professional sport, and in professional sport gone are the days where a coach is pigeon holed to be of a certain experience or pedigree. That being said, local coaches and talent need to be exposed to as much of the sporting landscape as possible and learn as much as possible.
That leads me to another uniquely Singaporean sporting occurrence : Amateur professionalism. Being professional is more than about getting paid, its about a mentality, and really remembering that while sport is a passion, it is your job, and in any job, you need to do it well. Sports is by nature a product of passion, despite what the big wigs in the Singapore Sports Machine will tell you. You have to be passionate and dedicated to spend considerable amount of your life focused on training, coaching, and even administrating. Why else would one for example wake up at 6am each day to make the gym at 7am, workout for an hour and then go to the office to work a full day. 7.00pm comes around, and off you go for national or club training. 6 days a week this happens. Not paid for any of it, and for some sports, not even supported by the Government.
When one is selected for national duty, it is supposed to be a proud moment, but for most national sportsmen, it’s a wrangle with employers – time off, leave, and the like. Employers are reluctant to let their employees go because for most companies, this is seen as a waste of time. ‘Why should I grant time off for an employee to have fun on a national trip? He can jolly well take the time off himself!” I have been there one too many times , in a situation where you need to make a decision : Follow your passion no matter the consequence, or forgo all those 6am wake up calls for the security of obeying your boss. The buzzword in Singapore has been about ‘work -life balance’ , focusing on the family. What then of those who dedicate so much to represent their country, for no reward other than the pride to say that you are Singaporean, and are representing your country. Much of the bigwigs in the Singapore Sport Machine want to follow the rest of the world, and have professional athletes win gold at whatever multi sport game. Fair call, but then what about rewarding the passionate amateurs who put so much aside for that opportunity to represent their country – be it at something like canoe polo, to rugby to even netball. All these sports are still strictly amateur in Singapore, yet in the rest of southeast Asia, many are semi professional and compete against Singapore. Companies in Thailand even are very supportive of sportsmen, no matter the sport, the reverse of equal misery.
At the end of the day, Singapore wants to be sports hub , and for many that definition is a country with a sporting culture, but if the culture is to make money, how do you really cultivate a sporting culture and work-life balance?