NS for Schooling but no NS for Chen Feng

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By: 永久浪客/Forever Vagabond

It was reported that at a community event yesterday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen told reporters that Olympic gold medalist Joseph Schooling may continue to have his NS deferred if the swimmer continues to meet the conditions set.

“When we deferred (Schooling) in 2013, so that he could compete, train, compete in the Olympics, it was based on known conditions that I already explained to Parliament. If he continues to meet those conditions, I don’t see why not,” Dr Ng said.

Many online have noted that the next few years will prove crucial for Schooling as he builds on his Olympic victory and, in particular, defends his 100m fly gold at the 2020 Tokyo Games. Quite a number are behind Schooling, hoping that he could get his NS deferment further or even be exempted from NS totally.

But Dr Ng is cautious. He said, “I think we should take it a step at a time. I think, let’s see how it unfolds. I think at this point of time, we should really focus and congratulate Mr Schooling for having worked over so many years – and really it’s both his efforts, his parents’ support, as well as the community, that has allowed him to achieve such heights even at a young age.”

“So let’s use this moment to just come together and congratulate him and his achievements. On Monday, as we have announced, there is a motion (in Parliament, to formally recognise Schooling’s achievement), so I think other questions can wait until then.”

So, even if Schooling’s NS is deferred again, he will still have to serve his NS down the road. But in the case of China-born foreign talent turned Singaporean, Chen Feng, who plays table tennis for Singapore also at the Olympics, he does not need to serve any NS at all.

22-year-old table tennis player hailed from China

Chen Feng was born on 24 March 1994 in Jinzhou, People’s Republic of China. He is one year older than Schooling.

Chen’s journey to Rio Olympics began in a public gym in his hometown when he was 6 years old. “I thought it looked fun and just started to play (table tennis), while my parents chatted with their friends on the sidelines,” he recalled.

He trained under the gym’s coach for a year before moving on to a sports school. Eighteen months later, he started training with the Liaoning provincial team. He became among the top three in his batch of Liaoning youth squad. Not long after, he entered the China’s national youth team as one of the younger players in the squad.

At the age of 16, he jumped at the chance to come to Singapore so that he could compete internationally as well as in the Olympics. He moved to Singapore in 2010 under Singapore’s Foreign Sports Talent Scheme (FST) and one year later in 2011, he became a new citizen of Singapore. With that, he was immediately eligible to represent Singapore to compete at the Table Tennis Brazil Open (U21 Boys Singles) in the same year that he first obtained his Singapore citizenship.

Subsequently in 2012, he competed at the Chile Open (U21 Boys Singles), China Open (U21 Boys Singles), Japan Open (U21 Boys Singles), Harmony China Open (U21 Boys Singles) and Polish Open. In 2013, he represented Singapore at the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships and SEA Games. He also competed at the various international games in 2014 and 2015. But each time he competed and won a game, his ranking would go up, which would help him to enter the Olympics later.

Loss in opening match at Olympics

And this year, Chen got his wish and was able to represent Singapore at the Rio Olympics. But his first Olympics lasted just 40 minutes or so, after he lost in his opening match in the table tennis singles. He bowed out last Sunday after losing to a Finnish player. He was beaten by a score of 4-1.

Chen said after his loss in the preliminary rounds, “I was too nervous. Everything felt totally different from what it was like in practice and I couldn’t put anything that I’ve done during practice into good use.”

“My nerves affected my technique and ability to react quickly,” he tried to explain.

The controversial Foreign Sports Talent Scheme

Many foreign players, including Chen, have moved to Singapore under the controversial Foreign Sports Talent Scheme, so as to represent Singapore and have a chance to play internationally.

Last year, a public dialogue, “Singapore Sports — Ready to go Solo?”, was organized to discuss the controversial government’s scheme. Among the sporting fraternity, it is understandable that many local athletes are unhappy with it.

This is more so for male athletes cause male foreign athletes turned Singaporeans under the scheme do not need to serve NS but native-born male Singaporean athletes must. In recent years, the call has sounded for an end to the scheme, particularly after Singapore’s successes at regional events.

This includes the recent Singapore’s success at the 28th SEA Games, in which its 747-strong athlete contingent posted the country’s best-ever performance with a total of 259 medals — the most of all 11 participating countries — comprising 84 gold, 73 silver and 102 bronze.

But Sport Singapore CEO Lim Teck Yin continues to defend the government’s position.

“The foreign talent scheme is more pronounced in certain sports, for netball you have one player, for table tennis there are more,” said Lim, who stressed that retired national table tennis player Wang Yuegu is an example of a FST athlete who has assimilated well into Singapore society. But he did not mention Li Jiawei who has chosen to go back to Beijing after her retirement.

“This is also reflective of the state of sports in the world, if you look at the world championships and Olympics, there are a lot of table tennis players born in China,” Lim added, trying to defend STTA which has imported many China-born players into the association. STTA was helmed by MP Lee Bee Wah in recent years.

In any case, the irony is that local-born native Singaporean Joseph Schooling who won an Olympic gold must serve NS but China-born new Singaporean Chen Feng who was kicked out of the Olympics at his opening match, does not need to.

Such is life in Singapore – “Pai Mia”.

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