Schooling has done more than just winning an Olympic gold medal for Singapore.

As you all probably know by now, Singapore now has its very own Olympic gold medalist, ending a dry spell for great sporting success in this tiny dot.

And as we speak, Singaporean companies, politicians and just about any other Singaporean entity you can think of is clamoring to have a share in the youngster’s victory. Just yesterday, there were interviews with Joseph Schooling’s first swimming coach and even the Filipina nanny who took care of a very young Schooling — no doubt that these two probably played a very important role in nurturing a budding sports talent.

But it’s another thing altogether when you have companies that played no part at all in helping the youngster in his Olympic pursuit suddenly jumping on the bandwagon as though they had sponsored every step of Schooling’s sporting pursuit when the truth is: no one really paid attention at all prior to Jo’s win, and his parents had self-sponsored the Olympian, making sacrifices that only parents would understand, to send their only son halfway around the globe to train and study in the US because there simply wasn’t any infrastructures in place to help cultivate sporting success in a country that’s too focused on GDP growth and commerce. Even the national swimming association’s centre of excellence, that is supposed to provide funding and training programmes for young swimming talents, had closed down.

What’s even more amusing is that Singapore almost became one of the few countries in the world not broadcasting the Rio Olympics live, as national broadcaster Mediacorp had initially thought the price-tag of the broadcasting rights to cover the international sporting event was too hefty, and it only sealed the deal at the eleventh hour, arguably due to pressure from the sporting community.

And now they’re all making it sound like they have contributed significantly to Joseph Schooling’s win. I’m sure Jo is gracious enough to welcome the support given to him from home-grown Singaporean brands, and I don’t think anyone will have any problems with 1 million Krisflyer perks with Singapore Airlines; still, it just boggles the mind how quickly and easily these companies claim credit like vultures feasting on carrion. One can only imagine the number of companies that will be signing the youngster for endorsements in the weeks to come.

“Home-grown” is a bad word.

There is also the issue about Singaporeans harping on the fact that Jo is a “homegrown local talent”, and that we’re seeing a xenophobic trend as we honour our homeboy while sidelining the contributions of foreign-born athletes hired to participate in international sporting events. Supposedly, Singaporeans are crossing a line, and that we’re just letting loose a flurry of anti-foreigner sentiments with a local talent’s win.

Can anyone really blame Singaporeans for feeling thus? For too long, we have been told that this country lacks talent, from sports to industry and commerce, and hence the need to import talent from overseas. The policymakers will not want to admit it, but the sentiment on the ground is that we have been sidelined so much, we’re beginning to see native Singaporeans being pushed out of jobs in favour of these foreign “talents” — in what ways do these constitute “talent” when so many of their qualifications, skillsets and competencies are equally available without the importation of these FTs? Where’s the value-add other than the reality that we just need the numbers to sustain our GDP growth?

Let’s just be brutally honest about things: we have talent in Singapore. We have talents enough to be world-leading, not just a world-class, in so many endeavors in so many aspects of life, so let’s not keep putting ourselves down in the usual “Sinkie pwn Sinkie” fashion.

The usual argument is that Singapore was an immigrant society to begin with, and that pushing out FTs would be to lose the very fabric and foundation of Singapore society.

Duh. Such is also the case with countries like the United States, Australia and Canada where immigration has played a vital role in nation-building; but at some point, any achievements simply became “born and made in the USA/Australia/New Zealand/Canada”, instead of “Irish” or “British” or “Chinese” born success. I find such arguments feeble, because all it is to me is fear on the part of so many seeking their fortunes in Singapore that we would somehow one day wake up and realise that “foreign talent” is no big deal at all, and that the local born Singaporeans are just as good, if not better, than a “talent” born overseas.

Come on, we aren’t going to reverse the immigration policy just because we started celebrating the “Singaporean-ness” of our homegrown athletes. Like I said, we still need you guys to make up the numbers for sustained GDP growth, so relax. By all means, set up your businesses and find jobs here, and as long as you paid taxes or decided to take up permanent residency or even citizenship, we will cheer for you equally should you decide to take part in some major sporting event.

So what has Jo Schooling done?

Jo’s Olympic success goes beyond winning a gold medal against one of the sporting greats in history; it goes beyond ending a dry spell at major sporting events for a tiny nation hungry to flex its muscle; and indeed it goes beyond defining what being a true ‘son of Singapore’ means. Jo is an inspiration: and he has proven that Singaporeans are capable of greatness if only we believed enough in ourselves. And everyone else should really just let us have a little moment to celebrate our homegrown talent. We’re not being xenophobic — we’re euphoric over a win that comes barely a week after we celebrated 51 years of nation-building, and it’s about time we stepped up and claimed success as ‘Singaporean-made’ instead of attributing to other nations: they can help, but you can’t take away the fact that Jo remains a son of the Singaporean soil.

And as I mentioned in a FB post, it’s time we started thinking we can be world-leading beyond just sports, and in other areas like entrepreneurship and commerce. Over the years, Singapore has scored so many firsts and so many award-winning achievements, only to have those achievements and accolades overshadowed by lame comments that we wouldn’t have achieved those otherwise without outside help. Such self-crippling mindsets only serve to limit our potential, and we shouldn’t keep thinking we’re not good enough, or be content with playing second-fiddle to other larger nations. Hence, government officials, business leaders and market movers should really stop putting down Singapore’s local and homegrown successes and continue to promote the idea that “foreign is better” — if there are any adverse sentiments against our immigration policies, it’s only because we local-born Singaporeans have to put up with being told that we’re not real talent and hence have to look up to, or accept talents from other parts of the world coming in to do what we are perceived to be unable to do.

As a Singaporean, I stand proud of Jo Schooling and his Olympic success, and can only hope that he will go on to win many more medals, and for many more Joseph Schoolings in our midst to rise up to claim glory for the nation.

Majulah Singapura never sounded sweeter

I’ll end this post with a post on my FB page in response to a friend’s question as to what does it mean to be “Singaporean”:

What does it mean to be Singaporean: colour, race, ethnicity, religion, background…everything and a bit of each. But more importantly it’s about being able to celebrate all the good stuff and put up with the bad about this little dot, and still wiling be to call it home, have a sense of belonging and yearn to return here at the end of the day regardless of whether or not there were monetary gains or privileges or social benefits to be reaped; to somehow tell yourself you’d do what it takes to defend every square inch should she ever be invaded and to give your utmost best to win glory and be proud to be recognised as Singaporean when standing on the international stage regardless of your pursuit be it sports or business or commerce, or even when you’re not engaged in anything competitive, like a casual chat amongst friends from other nationalities.
If you can do that, the you are a true son or daughter of Singapore regardless of where you were born. But if you can’t then even if you were born here, you will never be a true Singaporean cause your heart isn’t already here.
What does it mean to be Singaporean? If you reach down deep in your heart and you identify with the pride and joy with your countrymen, and at the end of the day tell yourself this is home; when you decide the giving is more important than the receiving and you’d play your part no matter what — then you’re Singaporean.

Enjoy your moment, Jo. For you have done us all proud.

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