By Les Tan/Red Sports

feng tianwei airport reception

Feng Tianwei and her teammates in a media scrum at Changi Airport when they returned earlier this week from their win over China in Moscow. (Photo courtesy of Singapore Sports Council)

This has been a week of mixed emotions for Singapore sports fans. The hockey and football national squads were turned down by the Singapore National Olympic Council for the Asian Games.

Hockey fans are particularly upset because they qualified outright for the Asian Games when they came in second at a recent qualifying tournament. The Asian Games hockey competition is a 12-team format but the SNOC did not select them because they failed to meet the minimum criteria of a top-six standing in Asia. Singapore are ranked eight.

Their disappointment has spilled over into a newly-created Facebook group which as of this post has 410 members. The Singapore Hockey Federation are probably going to appeal.

As for football, the national U-23 squad were sent to the 2006 Doha Asian Games where they failed to progress beyond the first round. It is not clear right now that the general public mourns their absence.

In contrast, Singapore became table tennis world champions with a victory in Moscow, Russia this past week. Yu Mengyu, Sun Beibei, Li Jiawei, Wang Yuegu and Feng Tianwei beat China 3-1 to claim the world crown, beating the Chinese at their own game.

The Singapore players were born in China, nurtured on this island and played with the crescent moon and five stars on their jerseys. Their place of birth is problematic for some.

It is certainly a personal victory for the players. After all, they were not considered good enough for the China first team and were allowed to leave their homeland to try their luck somewhere else. They took their chances in Singapore and they succeeded. They earned their crown.

Tianwei, Jiawei and their China-born teammates are part of the diaspora of Chinese who now play under different flags. As a result of this, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) changed the rules for the world championships in early 2008 to make it harder for players to change nationality.

Players aged over 21 years cannot play for their new country at ITTF-sanctioned World Championships and World Cups. Players aged 15 to 18 years old must wait five years before competing for their new country, while those 18 to 21 years of age will be made to wait seven long years. Those who are below the age of 15 years must cool their heels for three.

Tianwei came to Singapore in April 2007 when she was 20, before the new rules kicked in. If the new rules applied to her, she would not have been in Moscow.

The contrasting fortunes of the various sports shows one thing — the size of the talent pool makes a difference. With China providing a huge talent pool, not just the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) but the Singapore Badminton Association (SBA) has also looked for foreign talent in China to fill our ranks. The SBA also has Singaporeans of Indonesian and Thai heritage on their roster.

So is the foreign talent route the clear path to success on the international front? It is not so straightforward. Just ask the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), the Singapore Athletic Association (SAA), the Singapore Rugby Union (SRU) and the SBA.

The FAS fields a national team with a strong infusion of foreign talent but just missed out on qualifying for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. Goal 2010? No goal.

The SAA brought in China-born athletes. That experiment ended in failure and legal suits. The excitement in athletics is confined only to the school scene.

The SRU had to stare down a player revolt among local-born players in 2009 over national team selection. A lot of the current national players are naturalised foreigners. Even then, the team lost Division One status in the Asian Five Nations Series in 2009 and this year failed to qualify from Division Two, losing the final to Sri Lanka.

In badminton, the Thomas Cup — the Holy Grail of badminton — is only a dream. The target of a 2012 Thomas Cup appearance set in 2000 by then prime minister Goh Chok Tong is not achievable. Singapore last qualified for the Thomas Cup in 1986 and the contrast with Malaysia and Indonesia — regulars in the Thomas Cup — is painful.

The sporting experiment continues.

Quick Facts on Feng Tianwei
* Date of birth – August 31, 1986 (21 years old)
* Born in China
* Came to Singapore in April 2007; received citizenship nine months later in January 2008
* Part of China’s national youth squad before coming to Singapore
* Beat world number one Zhang Yining of China at the Asian Cup in Sapporo, Japan in early 2008
* World ranking in August 2007 – 73rd
* World ranking in August 2008 – 9th
* World ranking in June 2010 – 2nd

The exact wording of the new ITTF rule

In addition to the provisions of 3.8 (the general rule of eligibility) players being eligible to represent an association other than the one they intend to represent, shall register with the ITTF, through this new association.

Such players shall not represent the new association before:
– 3 years after the date of registration, if the player is under the age of 15 when registered;
– 5 years after the date of registration, if the player is under the age of 18 but at least 15 years of age when registered;
– 7 years after the date of registration, if the player is under the age of 21 but at least 18 years of age when registered.

Players being 21 years of age or older will not be registered with the ITTF and will not be eligible to represent a new association at World Title events.

With regard to the women's table tennis team beating China to become world champions ...

View Results

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With regard to SNOC not selecting the men's U-23 football squad for the 2010 Asian Games ...

  • SNOC should have selected them. (51%, 26 Votes)
  • SNOC made the right decision since the team did not meet the top-six criteria. (49%, 25 Votes)

Total Voters: 51

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With regard to SNOC not selecting the men's hockey team for the 2010 Asian Games ...

  • SNOC should have selected them. (68%, 69 Votes)
  • SNOC made the right decision since the team did not meet the top-six criteria. (32%, 33 Votes)

Total Voters: 102

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