By Alex Wan
At the end of last year’s SEA Games in Manila, a report card published by a major newspaper drew a lot of flak from both sports fans and athletes, including our very own in Singapore squash. Perhaps it was the manner it portrayed several sports that upset certain parties.
Whether or not it was fair to do so, inevitably, in the sporting world, an athlete’s performance will always be measured against expectations. When an athlete performs below par, the reports will not be kind. When the athlete performs above par, they will be praised. It is as simple as that.
Let’s not forget the fact that millions of dollars from the government’s coffers are spent annually to fund high performance sport. Take for example the One Team Singapore Fund, which the SSRA is directly benefitting from this year. This fund alone costs the Singapore government $50 million (over 5 years). In 2019, an additional $3 million was set aside for extended support for Team Singapore athletes preparing for major games, of which the SEA Games is a big part of that.
If we all took a step back and looked at the figures, it is no surprise that apart from the media, the NSAs, the government and even the people of Singapore expect a return from the amounts of money that sports has received.
Coming back to the newspaper report, our top junior player, Sneha Sivakumar, was clearly unhappy when the report card was published. It must be mentioned that is was commendable of her to come out and respond to the publication, standing up for her fellow athletes.
“I get it. It’s the easiest way for the public to understand the results. But when they do that, it just puts each sport in such a bad light.”
She also feels that by grading each sport, the public will tend to associate it to the sport directly, rather than the performance at the event. She also goes on to add that every sport should in fact be given an A for effort.
Despite not being happy with it, she still feels it is fair that performances should be measured, but in a better way.
“Yes, I agree the performance of athletes should be measured. But the performance is not just the results – it’s also the amount of effort you put in and the results you get for that. I really don’t think you should measure sporting performance with a letter. I completely disagree with that”, said Sneha, who was part of the women’s team that won the team silver at the 2019 Manila SEA Games.
Her fellow team member Au Yeong Wai Yhann, who felt that while some were unable to get the results, they have nevertheless sacrificed a lot to represent Singapore, and we should be creating a society that encourages instead of berating them.
“As much as results may be important, it’s really not everything. I think there should be a balance. Yes, if we are talking about competitive sports for elite athletes, you do want and need to achieve results. But it shouldn’t be solely focussed on results because it puts a lot of stress on athletes.”
In fact, Wai Yhann even went a step further to share an interesting view that even education should not be purely results-driven. It is certainly no surprise as Wai Yhann had previously shared with Singapore Squash that sports has given her many opportunities and learnings over the years which cannot be quantified.
Samuel Kang, our top ranked men’s player, who is also the most experienced between the local lot, was more accepting to the fact that their results should be measured.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with grading athletes’ performances per se. At the end of the day, we are representing the country and have targets to hit. So, it’s fair for us to be judged based on whether we meet our targets.”
However, he also adds that the discussion (about the newspaper report card) was solely centred around the fact that the media was judging each sport based on an individual event instead of having a full view, which he says the athletes themselves and the NSAs would know.
“For instance, two silvers might be judged equally by the media, but athletes and NSAs would know that they could be very different”, Samuel adds.
We were fortunate enough to catch full-time professional athlete Low Wee Wern to get her views. Having been in the media spotlight since her junior days, she is clearly a veteran on this topic.
“I guess everyone has their Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and for us athletes, our KPI is unfortunately, just results based. There is not much use (in this context) of measuring whether you’ve gotten stronger or playing better. To them, a win is a win and a loss is a loss. As unfair as it can be sometimes, it is how it is, and we just have to learn how to deal with it. It’s how one reacts to that, that matters”, she shares when asked when athletes should be measured.
As Wee Wern said in the previous article, there are times when she gets bundled out in the first round when she was expected to win When that happens, the media will always write something undesirable about it and she has grown to accept that it’s part of their job to.
“I’ve done well in some and I got very positive words from the media, and then there were games I was supposed to win and end up losing, and I get hammered for that. I wouldn’t say it’s fair, but it’s probably one of the only ways sports associations and people (in general) review athletes. It’s really just wins and losses and they do not know sports as deeply as we do. It’s just black or white to them.”
So how would she advise our young athletes to face this aspect of the sport that isn’t part of a player’s long-term training plan?
“What I can say is, at the end of the day, the most important thing is you just keep going. You’ll definitely have ups and downs. We can’t always win. That’s just sports and one of the things we really need to learn is dealing with criticisms. Just don’t take it too personally, because it’s not a personal attack.
“It’s their opinion and they are also just doing their jobs and trying to meet KPIs like we do. They are obliged to write a story, based on the facts that are on hand. So, it’s nothing personal, so my only advice is not to take it personally and keep working on yourself.
“They need to do their job as well and I would say let’s be sensible and try to understand how things look from their end.”
Coming back to how we started the story, perhaps there needs to be a check and balance on the topic. Athletes need to be ready to receive criticisms and channel them as an area to improve. Squash fans should be kind and patient towards our athletes. Everyone has their ups and downs, and a failure here and there is indeed natural in any sport.
The media, well, they are just doing their job.