Medal without Honour: Money Sports

Commonwealth Games Medals

Commonwealth Games Medals

Does winning a gold medal at the Olympics or Commonwealth Games bring honour to a country? In these international sporting events, flags of participating countries fluttered proudly as sportsmen and women pit against the finest of the world for a piece of medallion. Gold, of course is the coveted prize, followed by the silvery metal, and lastly a bronze. Others walked away with disappointment and even despair. Years and years of grueling training are spent just for this moment to have your name stamped in time.

In the Commonwealth Games 2014 held recently at Glasgow, Australian table tennis veteran William Henzell slammed Singapore for fielding a professional team of Chinese players in the table tennis event. Singapore won 6 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze medals for the table tennis event. He highlighted that Singapore only had two “token” Singaporeans in their team – Clarence Chew and Isabelle Li – while the rest were Chinese-born. The insinuation is that Singapore paid for professional players from mainland China against the spirit of the sporting event. Does Henzell has a legitimate grouse or is he just sour grapes?

The Singapore government has an inclination to boast about her achievements by her leaders by making it to the top news in almost anything – first or best in the world in whatever. As long as it is the first or the best in the world. It might just a matter of inferiority complex. To her credit, Singapore does have quite a long list of superlative accolades – most people per square km city, most expensive city, longest serving minister, most maids per capital, most expensive car in the world, the list goes on. With s tiny population of only 2.6 millions citizens in 1990, making a spot in the highly competitive sporting events does not appear promising then.  Yet, the craving to make it happen is just too strong to ignore. Something has to be done.

“For competitive athletes, the cost of training at elite level requires an enormous financial investment over many years. Of all athletes who dream of winning an Olympic medal, only a small percentage will find themselves on the podium at the Games.The Singapore National Olympic Council in the 1990s, under the direction of then President Dr. Yeo Ning Hong, devised an incentive scheme to reward medal-winning athletes. The Multi-Million Dollar Award Programme provides a cash payout to athletes who win medals at the Olympic, Asian, Commonwealth and South East Asian (SEA) Games. The largest gold medal award is $1 million, payable to the athlete who claims an individual gold medal at the Olympic Games. The smallest is a $10,000 windfall for an individual gold medallist at the SEA Games. The value of the awards varies with the respective Games, with the Olympic Games providing significantly higher payouts. The awards also vary, based on individual medals versus team event or team sports medals.” –

Even with the incentives, the statistical laws of numbers put Singapore in a real disadvantage to produce such a sporting talent. Monetary incentives has a limit. You simply cannot incentivise a small population to create a world champion even with a billion dollars. The next best is to buy talents. That is what money can buy. The quest for a sporting talent began in the early 1990s. Li Jiawei, a China-born table tennis player was recruited in 1995 and moved to Singapore to begin a career of competitive sports. She became a Singapore citizen in 1996 at the age of 18 years under the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme. From 1997 to 2012, she made Singapore proud with a string of medals in various sporting events. Importing talent did pay off. Singapore now has a place in international sports! In January 2013, Li decided to leave Singapore and return to her birth place. Money cannot buy allegiance.

The Singapore government has been employing this same “successful formula” for virtually anything, not just in sports but in any expertise that money can buy. In the last ten years, Singapore imported masses of foreign talents. The ratio of citizens to foreign talents is approaching 1:1. It is a total population replacement. To the government, it is the end that matters, the means are of no significance. It is the government’s justification for being so small. In science and technology, hoards of foreign professionals were “bought in”, only to see them leave after the financial incentives are depleted. Singapore’s research institute A*STAR fell victim to this financial-incentive policy. Many top researchers brought in from other countries eventually left. A nation built on money and not her people will fail!

Henzell’s jab at Singapore is not without merit, even tough what Singapore did was perfectly legitimate. Any country can do the same. But there is a moral side to using money incentives to accomplish certain objectives. You can buy an expertise, but you cannot buy allegiance. You can buy a medal, but it comes with no honour. Love and enjoy sport for what it is, not for medals and money. True love is priceless!

1 Timothy 6:10

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.


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