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Sporting Life

RI's Jonathan Chua's sporting act: No big deal? Such sporting deeds deserve retelling

Jonathan Chua, 17, will tell you with a quiet humility that what he did is no big deal. He'll answer very politely but gently suggest he's getting too much attention. If you ask, he'd tell you that he's just any other Chelsea-loving, Fernando Torres-admiring, goal-hunting, footballing boy.

Jonathan is partly right for no one needs to erect a statue of him nor confer sainthood on him. But he's also wrong because he's not any other footballing boy. He's a big deal because "fair play" to him isn't just an abstract idea or a fine philosophy. It is in fact the real way to play sport.

Last Friday, Jonathan, a striker from Raffles Institution, was seemingly tripped in the penalty box by an Anglo-Chinese Junior College player. The referee pointed to the spot. RI was losing 1-2. It was the 78th minute. Parity was probably a penalty away.

Except Jonathan did something profound. He didn't just get to his feet, he stood up for something. In the heat of the moment - the athlete's favourite excuse for idiocy - he responded with a beautiful clarity. He told the referee he wasn't tripped or touched but simply fell. He clarified it wasn't a penalty. Eventually the referee changed her mind and RI lost the match.

It's a lovely story because we've forgotten that the young can carry a muscular conviction. Jonathan, his tone unwavering, says: "For me it was a clear choice. I was very sure he didn't touch me." ACJC's captain Tan Kay Shin, 17, was "stunned", for as he says: "From my point of view it looked like a clear penalty." When the match was over, he thanked Jonathan.

Kay Shin says Jonathan's act "is the way sport should be played"; Jonathan says he's disappointed sometimes by the behaviour of football's prima donnas. And so this seemed an appropriate response: young men let down by their TV heroes simply set their own example.

 

Principle usually bends in pursuit of the prize, yet a young man reminded us of a sporting fundamental: it's not just if we win but how we play. As Jonathan put it: "Giving up integrity isn't worth a win."

It's a reassuring story because we're used to a planet where sportsmanship has become an inconvenience. It's much easier for everyone - fan, parent, coach - to become complicit in a culture of cheating: When a player from our team dives, our response is that everyone dives. Principle usually bends in pursuit of the prize, yet a young man reminded us of a sporting fundamental: It's not just if we win but how we play. As Jonathan put it: "Giving up integrity isn't worth a win."

It's an instructive story because even school teams lose their moral moorings in the hunt for trophies. ACJC coach Ong Jin Yi was "impressed" with Jonathan, or as he elegantly explained: "For an 18-year-old to stand up for what was right and not popular took a lot of guts. He showed very good sportsmanship. I was pleasantly surprised because, going into this tournament over the years, teams and players tend to value winning over sportsmanship."

It's a humbling story because even though it wasn't Jonathan's intention, he defies us to emulate him. Will we call a rival's shot "in" when we're 15-40 down on a Sunday morning and the tennis ball hits the edge of a line? Do we inform a playing partner that our golf ball shifted slightly in the rough during a practice swing? Or are we just honourable sportspeople over a beer?

It's also, in a way, a sad story for it confirms that fair play is such a rare occurrence that we find ourselves applauding a schoolboy for just doing the right and expected thing.

But most of all, it's a story we must keep telling for it's the only way to keep sportsmanship alive. To talk about it. To find and celebrate other Jonathans who certainly exist. To hold onto respect which is what two school teams did last evening, lining up after play to shake the hands of every rival player and coach.

Three weeks ago I went to a school to give a brief lecture on sportsmanship and I told them stories. About Martin Damsbo who lent his spare bow to a rival during competition and nine-year-old sailor Hana Dragojevic who leaped into the water to save a rival.

But instead of searching overseas to illustrate my point, I should look for the Singaporean schoolboy next door. And so next time I should ask Jonathan to come along and recite his story. But knowing him, he'll just tell them it wasn't such a big deal.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2016, with the headline 'No big deal? Such sporting deeds deserve retelling'. Print Edition | Subscribe