ST Aug 30, 2008Silly Bee Wah. Such an unnecessary fracas. Simultaneously, her severe lack of political finesse is exposed and revealed to her political bosses.
I'm sorry, Singapore
By Lin Xinyi & Terrence Voon
'I SINCERELY apologise.'
Ms Lee Bee Wah, the president of the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA), had those words for the country last night.
Her comments last weekend, that she would replace the Singapore table tennis team manager, unleashed a storm of criticism and calls for her resignation.
In a quavering voice, she said sorry for souring the country's brightest sporting moment in almost half a century.
Facing a throng of close to 30 journalists at a press conference last night, she said: 'It is regretful that this situation happened and turned out the way it did.
'I had made comments which had been misunderstood and had upset some Singaporeans. I sincerely apologise for causing any grievances and any stress.'
She also said: 'Our action has dampened the celebration mood of our fellow Singaporeans.'
With that, she brought to a close one chapter of an episode that sparked unhappiness from all quarters.
Since last weekend Ms Lee, an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, has been criticised by many for spoiling the party mood after the country's first Olympic medal in 48 years.
Just five days after the women's table tennis team took silver at the Beijing Games, she revealed that team manager Antony Lee's services were no longer needed, and that national head coach Liu Guodong's fate would be decided by a coaching committee.
She had been angry after Singapore No. 1 Gao Ning found himself with no coach for his third-round men's singles match and crashed out to a much lower-ranked Croatian.
Ms Lee took over as table tennis chief barely two months ago, on July 4. Though many called for her to step down, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Vivian Balakrishnan made it clear last night that she will stay, but she needs some time to get results.
Last night's press conference, held at the STTA's headquarters in Toa Payoh, also made clear that head coach Liu is in talks with Ms Lee to negotiate a new contract.
But team manager Lee will leave the STTA. His secondment from the Singapore Sports Council to the association will be extended by three months beyond the end of this month. He will then join the Singapore National Olympic Council.
If Bee Wah had really wanted to get rid of Lee, she should have simply waited a few more weeks or months. Then the public excitement over the Olympic silver medal would have died down, and she could have garnered a few plausible reasons, and sacked Lee then. Without all this sound and fury.
No, instead Bee Wah had to do it straight after the Olympics, and in such an ugly fashion - making it public, without even personally telling Lee first. Leading to an entirely predictable backlash from the public. Now the Minister himself has to step in personally, and repeatedly, to manage the show and stop it from spinning out of control.
Doesn't Bee Wah UNDERSTAND what Vivian needs? The success of our imported foreign sporting talent is not merely for the sake of the sporting scene in Singapore. No, their success is important for convincing the masses that in general, foreign talent is good, valuable and beneficial for Singapore, in every sector.
In other words, the Olympic silver medal is an important showcase for the PAP government's broader foreign talent policy. The greater the public euphoria over the silver medal, the better!
But now that Bee Wah has gone and mucked it all up. No, her political bosses won't be pleased at all.
Regarding the table tennis part, the damage is done. Lee is going, and who can blame him? People have pride, especially people who are good at what they do. Lee's main satisfaction in this matter would be that before leaving, he did manage to get Bee Wah so thoroughly and publicly embarassed.
And besides, for him, there will always be other options. Any other countries out there, which would like a table tennis coach for the 2012 London Olympics?