The Straits Times says

In need of some ping-pong diplomacy

Efforts by the Singapore Table Tennis Association and triple Olympic medallist Feng Tianwei to rise above their differences are a positive development, after the woeful events that had unfolded recently.

Though she remains out of the national team, STTA said it will support her participation in international competitions; and Feng has thanked the Singapore Sports Institute, Sport Singapore (the lead agency) and STTA for their backing. If both parties had not moved on, it would have smacked of pique unbefitting of the wealth of resources and fan support given to the sport.

One would prefer to say "time out" rather than "game over" when officials and athletes square off. The battle, after all, belongs in the sports arena and none would expect casualties to arise from missteps on the sidelines. As bad as the spat sounds - with "disgrace to the nation", "bad egg" and 200 eggs for breakfast surfacing in reports - it did not warrant any banishment of whoever was at fault.

But before playing on, it's necessary to ponder the issues raised by this episode. There is no denying that sport, especially at the elite level, is about emotion. That is what helps to drive a diminutive competitor to outlast bigger opponents, an unknown to defeat legends, or an official to get more worked up over his sports role than his day job. It's also true that raw talent and guts alone do not cut it in the upper echelons of sport. It takes much support - parental to national - to turn someone into a star. As is often the case, the winner's glow is a fleeting one and the knowledge of that can feed more emotion into an undertaking.

These are all good reasons for those in the sports fraternity, fans included, to be gracious to each other when they don't see eye to eye. And when that proves difficult, they should at the very least be diplomatic. Bickering openly over youth versus experience, local versus foreign, or individualism versus conformity can be simply self-defeating.

The STTA-Feng flap is a cautionary tale of poor communication when hard decisions are made. With the velvet touch of diplomacy, no athlete would need to feel bruised when she has to yield a place on the team to another aspiring sports person. Some have suggested an athletes' commission to serve as an intermediary as national sports associations might lack talent management skills.

Rather than separate bodies for different sports, a central commission might work better to not just assist in career transitions but also in disciplinary and welfare matters. Giving athletes a voice and proper counsel when there is a clash of egos and emotions ought to be viewed as an essential part too of preparing elites for the world stage.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2016, with the headline 'In need of some ping-pong diplomacy'. Print Edition | Subscribe