Should Singapore ‘Import’ Athletes to Win Olympic Medals?

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

After 52 years of “suffering” (according to Straits Times reporter Terence Voon), Singapore has finally got another Olympic medal in an individual sport. Table tennis player Feng Tianwei won a bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympics last week, and finally the Singapore flag was raised over the podium and the national anthem blared throughout the stadium.

Yet back in Singapore, not everyone was celebrating. It was pointed out that Feng Tianwei is not a native Singaporean, but a Chinese-born athlete brought to Singapore under the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme where talented athletes are identified and given citizenship so they can represent Singapore at international sporting events.

A Yahoo! SG online poll found that almost eight in ten of respondents did not feel proud of medals won by foreign talents. Many see the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme as an effort to “buy” medals, rather than earn them through Singapore's own efforts.

@rlychill: Ah feng tian wei……. What would we be without foreign import

@3mozslayer: The awkward moment when the national anthem of china plays and feng tian wei does not know whether to sing it.

Feng Tianwei won a bronze medal in the 2012 London Olympics. Photo from Wikimedia

Lucky Tan criticises the government's policy, saying it reflects a lack of faith in local talent:

When you import sporting talent just to win, you have given up on your own people and it represents the “cannot do” spirit …a confirmation that you  don't believe in your own people and their talents. No surprise to me that the sports association that is most active in importing sporting talent to win is led by a PAP [ruling party] MP….it reflects the faith and confidence they have in our own people.

Some also disapproved of Singapore's Multi-Million Dollar Awards Program, which means that Feng Tianwei will receive S$250,000 for winning the bronze medal.

@ButterJingers: Can you imagine? Feng Tian Wei is gna receive 250k from the nation as well as the medal.

LIFT thinks that people should not blame Feng Tianwei for coming to Singapore:

Now Feng is not a banker, she is a table-tennis player. There are not many people who can employ her – her potential employers are basically countries she can represent, compete for and win medals for. Whilst she is undoubtedly a highly skilled specialist in her field, her employment prospects are very limited compared to say a banker, an engineer or a teacher. By that token, Feng must've looked at the few options opened to her and she picked the best possible option: Singapore.

The Lycan Times says that although Feng Tianwei's achievement is impressive, it is difficult to feel pride because of an emotional disconnect:

Beyond the politics, it was a personal achievement – one that her own hard work has paid off. I wouldn’t deny I would have felt a lot more pride had a local-born Singaporean won. An old primary school classmate and I had a discussion separately on this matter, and one of things that came up during the discussion was that a lot of Singaporeans had no reason to feel pride in her win because they felt Feng does not represent us. He has a good point, and from a certain perspective I agree because I also felt Feng does not represent the Singapore that I grew up in – i.e. the Singapore where we have our emotional attachment as our place of birth. Above that, it is the Singapore that we grow up in it and one we felt grew up together with us. When we feel proud of the person we grow up into, we also feel proud of Singapore. Feng Tianwei, unfortunately, cannot and will never be able to represent that emotional Singapore – the one in our hearts is very different from the one we lived in. She represented a Singapore that we could no longer feel emotionally attached to.

Andrew Loh asks people to think about what makes a “true” Singaporean:

The criticisms flow fast and furious, and they are repeated ad nauseum each time someone who is seen as “not a true Singaporean” wins some accolades. While these sentiments are understandable because of our immigration policy, and others like the Foreign Talent Scheme (under which, incidentally, Feng was brought in), perhaps it would be best if we could move beyond launching diatribes against her and her colleagues, and ask ourselves a deeper, more meaningful question: what, really, makes a Singaporean?

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.


  • Regardless of how a player is brought in, to represent Singapore, as long as he/she don Singapore colors and is proud to become a Singaporean to represent Singapore, in any discipline of sport, he/she should be applauded and encouraged to do well. And so, all players have my support regardless that they are foreign born.

  • ric63

    what is there to be proud of? we are just buying medals thru the FT scheme! Above that, she gets 250K to bring home to China while the rest of true-blooded singporeans slog a lifetime n yet will never get that amount… The money given to her…might as well be given to the many needy people will be grateful to the govt…than just one individual… that is how much we benefit thru the FT!!

    • blue blood singaporean

      Precisely! she brings the money back to China! in the end we paid the money and spend OUR people’s money to help China bag in 3 medals in the same competition and help boost the China economy!

  • Tilichiki

    Singaporean don’t talk only. Can you do it? Show the world and don’t criticise anyone.

  • Dizzy

    This is nothing new…it happens in many sports around the world. If anything it can help fire interest from native born young players. When you boil it all down what she achieved was fantastic and her play in achieving the bronze medal was amazing. Please don’t diminish her hard work and dedication to a sport she clearly loves. Also, what James said.

  • sptay

    The question should not be where was she born but rather who develop her talents…like many whose talents were spotted by their school teachers, then further developed at secondary and then later overseas….but if her talents were all developed by China since she was young and then imported to represent Singapore…..then its natural for one to be unable to identify with the person’s success….and hence no pride…

  • Lapsek

    Singapore is basically outsourcing its sporting achievements. Whats there to be proud

  • Bad_Economic_Times

    I wonder if non-medal-winning athletes from Singapore get a good caning when they get home for embarrassing their country? You can’t litter or chew gum in that repressive hole!

  • met

    why does this k. han woman always write anti-S’pore articles ?

    • Guest

      Saddest thing is when we look at our neighbours who gave their people the opportunity and do not need to spend so much $$$ on FT gets a silver.  Just look at the 2 different reactions. One gave its people the opportunity while the other go for glory at whatever the cost.

  • Passerby

    Now that she’s won a medal (to prove herself), perhaps she should consider coaching and passing on her skills so Singaporeans would one day compete at the same level:)

  • […] In the aftermath of the Ferrari crash, the Chinese Embassy in Singapore felt compelled to openly urge Chinese citizens living in Singapore to “respect life, value the safety of themselves and others, abide by its laws and regulations, and live responsibly and gracefully.” But the damage has been done and soured relationships cannot be salvaged in the short term. When Singapore’s table-tennis team made up of new Chinese migrants won two bronze medals for the nation at the London Olympics, many Singaporeans are at best nonchalant, and at worst disdainful, scoffing at the achievement as the government’s desperate attempt to “buy medals”. […]

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