Study socio-economic factors for sporting success

Joseph Schooling celebrating after his win in the 100m butterfly in Rio.
Joseph Schooling celebrating after his win in the 100m butterfly in Rio. PHOTO: REUTERS

Joseph Schooling's outstanding achievements will undoubtedly be recounted many times in the coming years to future generations of Singaporeans, as both an inspiration and an aspiration ("Historic moment for Schooling, historic moment for Singapore"; Sunday).

Yet, it is also worthwhile for the Government and sports fraternity to study carefully the socio-economic factors behind Singapore's first Olympic gold winner's success, and re-evaluate or adjust current monetary strategies to better groom local sports talents to become world champions.

For Schooling, it was clear that at a young age, he possessed the tenacity, skills and aptitude to be a swimming champion.

However, his greatest blessings are that, first, he has supportive parents who are willing and have the financial means to make colossal sacrifices in time and money to fulfil his dream. Second, as he is an only child, his parents could concentrate all their resources and attention on him.

Indeed, the sacrifices are tremendous. His parents have spent nearly $1.35 million to nurture their son's gift - on top of government grants ("A seven-year struggle to Olympic glory"; Sunday).

When Schooling was younger, his parents even took turns to fly to the United States, where he was training, and stayed for months to take care of him.

Another sporting talent is rower Saiyidah Aisyah, who also participated in the Rio Olympics.

Like Schooling, she decided to train in a foreign country more renowned for her sport.

She took long-term no-pay leave from her job and used her own savings to chase her Olympic dream. Unfortunately, as her savings dwindled, she had difficulty raising sufficient funds to participate in the Olympics' qualifying event in South Korea and had to resort to crowdfunding.

These examples show that pursuing an Olympic dream in Singapore requires not just talent but also deep pockets.

It is regrettable that, currently, no Singaporean athlete has become world class without a significant overseas stint to hone their craft.

Both of the above athletes did just that and shouldered the bulk of the cost themselves, on top of other sacrifices. Will future promising athletes from humbler backgrounds who wish to emulate their successes have to be financially self-sufficient to pay for overseas training themselves?

At what stage should state subsidies and grants kick in? These are questions for the Government and the sports fraternity to reflect on.

Sim Eng Cheong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2016, with the headline 'Study socio-economic factors for sporting success'. Print Edition | Subscribe