Has Singapore Done Enough to Produce More Olympic Medalists?

Given a choice, do you want to be an Olympic Champ or a President Scholar in Singapore? Or as parents, which will you prefer your child to be?

For me, it is an obvious answer. Olympic champ!

It is an honour recognised at the highest level of sport at a world stage! Your legacy will be passed on for generations.

Of course, being an academic scholar is also extremely good. It is almost a guaranteed success in this country. If you do not make any stupid mistakes along the way, you will likely to be a high flyer in the government institution or SAF and potentially being a minister one day.

Joseph Schooling is the only Olympic gold medalist in Singapore when he beat Michael Phelps, one of the greatest Olympian of all time during the Rio 2016 Olympics. Aside from his price money, Schooling also made substantial amount of money outside of the pool after his victory. It was reported that Schooling received million-dollar sponsorship deals with the likes of Toyota, Hugo Boss, Tag Heuer and DBS Bank. He also has a swim school, Swim Schooling, and a fitness app, Schooling Sport. DBS also promised him a career in wealth management after he retires.


To be fair to Schooling’s family, they have spent even more than the so-called S$1 million he received. Not to mention the many sacrifices over the years grooming him. Joseph Schooling left Singapore at the age of 13 travelling to US to pursue his NCAA swimming career while studying economics in school. His parents took turn to go there to be with him.

In an interview with Straits Times in 2017, Schooling’s mum, May, said that she actually wanted his son to go abroad only until at least Sec 4, but it was Joseph who wanted to be sent there since he was aiming for Olympics.

She also said their annual expenses for swimming fees, housing and airfare for the family travelling back and forth to US is about US$100K a year. It’s been eight years and mathematically, it amounts to be more than S$1 million.

During the interview May School said the following,

“I haven’t done the maths yet, okay? All I know is that I’m always looking for money somewhere or other. But Joseph was quite lucky in the sense that things fell into place. When we needed the money, the money came. That’s why I say God guided him along the way.”

She also recalls how the mother of a swimmer once asked how her child could get the “scholarship” Joseph got.

“We said, ‘What scholarship? This is a papa-mama scholarship’.”

There was a house in Perth, Australia, that they sold, and an endowment policy that matured. “Things just came along, not much, but enough… you struggle along.”

She says she has been asked why Joseph’s studies and training aren’t being fully funded by the Government.

“I was told, ‘Why you so stupid? If Singapore wants your son to swim for them, they should pay.’ I said, ‘Tan ku ku’ (a Hokkien phrase for “it won’t happen”).

“That’s why I keep telling everybody, if you feel your son or daughter has it, it’s up to you whether you want to support them. If you’re going to wait for people, don’t do it, okay?”


I totally concurred with May Schooling. Scholarship from Singapore government, “Tan Gu Gu!”

Nowadays, sports is so competitive and without parents’ support, it is near IMPOSSIBLE to be the top player in this country.

During my time in primary school,  to be the top player in the country, my family spent zero dollars and zero interest! They only know that I did well, when I bring the medals back. Of course back then, our standard differs greatly compared to today, but at least money was never an issue.

Nowadays as parent, I spend a lot money, time and effort for my kids’ table tennis training. My one gal has trainings 6 times a week if no covid restrictions. Aside from money, the traveling and time arrangement is not easy. I also personally spend time to train them aside from the professional coaches.

In fact, I heard of parents who spent S$4 to 5K a month for one child’s sports enrichment. Crazy right! Of course money does not translate to success, but without that in Singapore, it is almost certain that you will not be the top athlete.

For those kids who are consider top players same level as my child, almost all of their parents are pretty well to do, and have spent a lot of money and time. For perspective, Singapore’s only male Table Tennis Olympian in Tokyo 2020, Clarence Chew, has parents’ both former national player, and Daddy was ex CEO of STTA. It is also well-known that the Chew family has roots to a huge family business.


In my own opinion, Singapore Sports associations did very little in grooming local talent. Or should I say, they spent very little effectively on the talents. Remember, I did not say they never spend….

Schooling received S$1 million for his victory. It is a huge amount of money but 20% of the amount has to go to Singapore Swimming Association for its training and development schemes as stipulated by the SNOC.

One thing, I could not understand is why one Singapore government agency have to give a huge one-time reward that looks good on paper, and then from there, take a portion out to another government agency.

Why don’t we just give him a S$800K award?

Or, why should we even reward winners that huge amount of money. Should we have instead grant Schooling scholarships to train in US with certain fair criteria spelt out for the athlete to be able to sustainably received the sports scholarships.

Perhaps this is a bias or false statement, but I sincerely feel that some sports associations created so-called talent grooming programmes, but the ultimate objectives is to earn money from parents more than cultivating talents. I have my fair share of experiences but does not want to elaborate too much here. Many of the parents I spoke with, shared the same sentiments.

For instance, we knew of a programme set up to make paid trainings compulsory for at least 1 or more year, before you can have a fair chance to compete to enter the junior squad. PERFORMANCE is not the criteria for entering the junior squad, but the registration before deadline and the payments made for 1-2 years are the pre-requisite.

Politics is everywhere, but I just feel that there are too much here even in the local Sports organisations.


Ok, not everything is despairing.

One good initiative Singapore has done well is the opening of the Sports School. Few of my friends whose children are/were in Sports School, all give good comments. Feedback from my friends as follows:

“Trainings are very focused and discipline. Educators in the school are also very good and responsible. This is despite kids all have different international competitions, disrupting class schedules but the teachers will spend extra effort personally for kids who missed the lessons.”

There are also different kind of business and sports science diplomas offered. Kids have to stay in Sports School from Monday to Friday. School fees and lodgings are greatly subsidised and reasonable with a good environment.


Even up to today, I still hear ignorance rants from many that “oh we are so small, our population is so small, and that is the reason why we are unable to create Olympic medallists.” This is not true in my opinion.

It was reported in this article that Finland has won 101 gold medals in 25 appearances at the Summer Olympics, with a current population of about 5.5 million people. Compare that to Denmark, with a similar population and from the same region, who have won 45 gold medals. Denmark also have many world-classed badminton players. Norway, Denmark, Finland and the poorer Croatia all have small population, but they are competitive in Soccer at the world stage. Taiwan today has world number 1 badminton player, and top classed table tennis player, even at the face of China big population.

Of course, we know that most of Finland’s medals were gained in early last century, with only a few medals won in recent Olympiads, but still we are equal if not, more wealthy compared to these countries, there is no excuse not to produce locally bred world-class sports man, if we really want.

My big question is should our focus and resources be rewarding success or for grooming success. For me, the latter is unquestionably more important.

The super stressful and competitive multi-tasking education system is another issue that greatly impedes the creation of an Olympic winner. That is a separate topic to discuss.

 In a nutshell, when you are a nobody in Singapore but with great potential sports talents, you have to “Tan Gu Gu” for the others to help you to realised your Olympic dreams.

However, if you are already a winner or have entered into an Olympic finals, then be sure that there will be many important people taking business class to cheer for you.

Has Singapore really done (spent) enough (effectively) to produce more Olympic medalists?


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One thought on “Has Singapore Done Enough to Produce More Olympic Medalists?

  1. Hey SI,

    Always glad to see you offering volunteering help. My wife shares the same sentiment as you that she will rather our children be President scholar.

    I am not talking about Schools training the students, but the sports association in grooming rather than obstructing.

    Elitist in CCA, hmmm…. Elitist in Youtubing, Elitist in Studies, Elitist in Schools comparisons, Elitist in unnecessary so much stress in Schools… Guess all are not so much difference. Perhaps the CCA part is the least!

    Frankly, if you teach the values of sports well, there is no Elitist even you are the champion.

    In China, their champion GOAT table tennis players are all very humble. This is the values. So I dont quite agree with the elitist CCA, but I do agree that this elitist thingy exist more significantly stronger in Singapore than any other countries, I been to/or have known.

    Guess, it is because our environment in Singapore favours elitist, don’t you find it?

    You think the government will put more attention or effort to an elitist or will put more effort in a child who have potential? Ready success is always easier.

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