What’s next for Singapore on the international table tennis sports scene?

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In light of allegations against Feng Tianwei, many are slandering the Olympic medal winner and questioning her character. Subsequently, the case of Feng Tianwei extends to all foreign talent in Singapore, and raises the question if Singapore really needs foreign talent, to win its international fame.


Table tennis is one of Singapore’s most controversial sports. Accordingly, Singapore has had a long history of importing talent from mainland China, for its controversial sport.

Singapore often conducts an intensive selection of second tier talent from Chinese provinces, offering these Chinese table tennis players’ scholarships and allowing them to compete for Singapore. Singapore’s intensive selection process has also applied to other sports such as track and field. However, it has been the most successful for Singapore’s table tennis scene.

Singapore importing foreign talent

Starting from the time of Jing Junhong, Singapore has dominated the table tennis scene in ASEAN. Once Singapore obtained talents such as Feng Tianwei, it was able to challenge the traditional table tennis powerhouses, like South Korea and Japan on the international stage.

Feng Tianwei also won Singapore its first Olympic medal in nearly six decades, during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Since then she’s gone on to win Singapore three out of five of its Olympic medals.

Nonetheless, on Oct 25th, Feng Tian Wei was removed from Singapore’s national team. In light of Feng Tianwei’s removal, the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) released a string of comments about the star table tennis player, stating she lacked professionalism.

However, the STTA’s reasoning was not consistent with its initial report, which emphasized youth development and the rejuvenation of its team, as the reason for Feng Tianwei’s sacking.

Singapore’s leading public Youth and Sports institution, Sport Singapore, issued a statement about Feng Tianwei’s sacking, stating it would discuss “the option of supporting her under the Sports Excellence (Spex) Scholarship scheme, and the performance targets and milestones expected of her”.

The fall of Feng Tianwei

It’s unusual for Singaporean news outlets and official government agencies, to release negative remarks on famed individuals, especially those such as Feng Tianwei, who have brought fame and pride to Singapore.

Consequently, once the news of Feng Tianwei’s sacking was released, mainstream media outlets released scandalous reports, of how the Olympic medal winner had been insubordinate, cheated, refused to pay her share of winnings, and showed disrespect to authorities.

Subsequently, what still bothers many people is why the STTA would turn on Feng Tianwei so unexpectedly. Despite the STTA’s claims that it wanted to pursue its agenda of youth development, it is still unclear why the association would publicly humiliate Feng Tianwei to such an extent.

There is speculation that Feng Tianwei refused to pay her coaches their equal share of the winnings, and that she also instigated other team members not to pay as well. Reports also insinuate that she submitted false handwritten claims amounting to a few hundred dollars.

If proven true, the latter allegations could bring forth serious charges against Feng Tianwei. Moreover, if there is suspicion of fraud, why has the STTA chosen to cover the incident up, instead of contacting the police?

In accordance to these allegations, Feng Tianwei has threatened to sue reporters, which are slandering her. Additionally, it should be in the best interest of the Singaporean government to follow up on such public funds, to make sure that tax payer dollars which go towards these scholarship funds are well utilized.

The future of Singapore’s sport scene  

It is also equally important for the relevant authority to consider if the STTA’s management has exercised caution and managed Singapore’s reputation prudently.

Regardless of the Feng Tianwei incident, it is still necessary for Sport Singapore to relook at the STTA’s strategy for international success in the next five years, given the substandard performance of Singapore during the Olympic team in Rio.

Therefore, two questions arise concerning Singapore on the world stage:

  1. Should Singapore continue to import world class talent to play on its women’s table tennis team? If yes, why should Singapore not employ the same strategy for other sports?
  2. Even if Singapore were to import international talent, should the government set policies to ensure a quota for local talent in the national team? (i.e. at least two out of three paddlers are Singaporean)

Accordingly, before Joseph Schooling won Singapore its first Gold medal at the Olympics, Singaporeans were led to believe that they needed to rely on international talent to win their medals. Given that Joseph Schooling has broken the previous stigma, questions have arisen to whether Singapore needs to continue to rely heavily on international talent, for its table tennis scene.

The latter question can be extended not only to Singapore’s table tennis scene, but to all of Singapore’s sports in general. It questions if Singapore really needs foreign talent to win it international recognition, or if it can find its own local talent to win it renown on the international sports scene.