Wednesday, August 20, 2008

No, I Don't Care About Sports

Just last week, Singapore won a silver medal for the women's team table tennis event. As this was only Singapore's second Olympic medal (in its history), this victory was much celebrated.

Now, consider another fact. So far in this Olympics, Jamaica has won 2 golds and 3 silvers. One of the gold medals, and quite possibly the most spectacular one, was for the men's 100m won by Usain Bolt, who broke the world record while running with no tail wind and slowing down during the last 15m to celebrate. Another amazing feat from this nation was that Jamaica won all the medals for the women's 100m. Simply remarkable.

Jamaica has a population of 2.8 million people.

One could attribute this disparity to various factors, such as genetics or geographical suitability. However, I am inclined to believe that social factors are by far more influential. To put it simply, Singaporeans do not care for sport.

Now, let me clarify that there is nothing wrong with not caring for sport. As a bookish academic, my personal opinion is that sport is an absolute waste of time and effort. What I feel is wrong, however, is for a nation which assigns so low an importance to sport to win an Olympic medal.

If, as a nation, you don't care about sports, then by the same logic, you should not be concerned with the medal tally. A token example is India. By measures of medals per capita, their performance is abysmal. My Indian friend says he doesn't care, as Indians aren't really concerned with physical perfection.

In my consideration, the Olympic medal was not deserved. Some might venture that it was bought, won by an imported team. I am almost inclined to agree. While it is indeed true that much of their success can be attributed to the training and resources given by Singapore, it is worth asking whether the same success can be achieved if the same training and resources were given to the most capable (native) Singaporeans.

Of course, the most evident answer is that the most (athletically) capable Singaporeans are off studying for some stable and well paying career. If our priorities are as such, it is perfectly acceptable. However, we should then also acknowledge that our priorities are economic and not athletic in nature. We shouldn't be bothered with 0 medals, or even with not sending a sporting delegation. Our source of pride should then lie in the economic domain.

To put things into words simply, we can't both have our cake and eat it. It is schizophrenic to collectively not be concerned with sport and yet, to be concerned enough to seek means to win medals.

PS: To clarify, I have no issues with "Foreign Talent". I do indeed support the idea that people are mobile, and that imported labor and brains is ultimately beneficial for the economy. This is consistent with my ideas as a classical liberal.

What I do say in this article is that if you are a nation with absolutely no interest in sport, it is consistent to not care about medal tallies.

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