3 ways Table Tennis Association can afford to show a bit more class dealing with world-class Feng Tianwei
This is not how we should treat our most decorated Olympian.
It has been nearly a week and many of us have probably heard that Feng Tianwei is no longer with Team Singapore’s table tennis.
This was after the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) announced on Oct. 25 that they would drop the world’s No. 6 women’s player from the national set-up, because she “does not fit into the STTA’s current plans for rejuvenation”.
It must be tough for Feng to be first informed of STTA’s decision on the same day of the announcement at 5pm, a mere few hours before STTA announced to the media.
Add that to the criticisms by anonymous sources over her attitude and her character in the mainstream media — Feng really had a rough week.
Can the issue of Feng’s departure be better handled by STTA?
Here are three ways why the STTA can afford to show a bit more class in dealing with world-class Feng Tianwei
1. STTA can ask its supporters to stop their criticisms about Feng in the media
The initial articles about Feng’s exclusion from the table tennis were generally fair, but speculation went into overdrive on why Feng was dropped.
Many of the allegations highlighted by the media were anonymous, but the allegations were “on message” — refusal to share prize winnings, making false claims, arguing with coaches.
TODAY, Oct 26
– “According to sources, a dispute over prize money had erupted after last year’s SEA Games…The 30-year-old had refused to pay her share of her winnings from the Multi-Million Dollar Awards Programme (MAP) that was meant for the coaches — an amount of $400 — and instigated other team members to follow suit.”
– There was “also an issue of false claims amounting to a few hundred dollars submitted by the player for reimbursement of food purchases, with handwritten receipts submitted by Feng called into question. These included the purchase of 200 eggs for breakfast over nine days, and 10 tins of milk over three days”.
– “On top of money issues, there were also disagreements over coaches and competitions”.
The New Paper, Oct 27:
– TNP “has learnt that contributing to the STTA’s bold move is a series of alleged misdemeanours that rendered the 30-year-old’s position in the national team untenable”.
– Feng is “said to have undermined the moves of her coaches and the STTA leadership on numerous occasions” during Beijing 2008 and London 2012.
– Feng and teammate Yu Mengyu asked the STTA to replace former national women’s coach Jing Junhong even before they fell out at last year’s Polish Open, which resulted in Jing’s redesignation as chief coach of youth development.
– “Feng had allegedly refused to contribute a portion of the 2015 SEA Games women’s team gold prize money – amounting to $400 – for the coaches”.
– “A letter of warning was issued to her over alleged false claims on purchases. The three-figure amount was said to have been retrieved by the STTA from her salary”.
In fact, the allegations were so specific — the purchase of 200 eggs for breakfast over nine days, and 10 tins of milk over three days –, one cannot help but wonder whether such details were leaked by a source close to the STTA.
Assuming that the media has done their due diligence, they would not have published anonymous sources unless they are certain that these sources are influential figures related to the STTA that the media would lend their credibility to.
2. STTA should actively address and clarify the allegations made by its deputy president
David Sim, STTA’s deputy president, had some harsh words to say about Feng on his personal Facebook account, calling her “ill-discipline(d)”, “disrespect(ful)” and “a disgrace to the nation”.
He had also perpetuated allegations on Feng falsifying claims on the purchase of 200 eggs over nine days.
While STTA clarified with Straits Times that Feng “did not falsify nor claim more than what she was permitted”, they could have set the record straight by asking Sim to retract his allegations.
Instead, STTA merely dismissed Sim’s views as “his personal views” and that “he is not speaking on behalf of STTA”.
3. STTA took more than two years to decide whether to drop Feng but could not inform her earlier or find a role for her.
In an interview with Channel NewsAsia (Oct 28) STTA President Ellen Lee said that deliberations on whether Feng should be dropped started more than two years ago when she took over.
If that’s the case, could STTA have prepared Feng earlier for the bad news?
After all, Feng is Singapore’s most successful Olympian and highest-ranked women’s player, not just an employee.
Even if Feng was not a team player like Gao Ning — Gao was offered a new role as assistant coach — it beggars belief that there was no useful role for Feng to play at all in the local table tennis fraternity.
With a three-time Olympic medallist being dropped without any support makes STTA seem rather “transactional” in its handling of national athletes.
As one Straits Times reader remarked, STTA’s actions can be likened to that in horse racing: “once a prized horse loses its value, it will be put out to pasture.”
As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong once said in a National Day Rally address, “we may be a small island, we cannot be small-minded”.
Unfortunately, STTA has failed its test of being “big-hearted” with its treatment of Feng.
And Feng, while admitting to Straits Times that her relationship with STTA is testy, did not even utter any single criticism about STTA throughout the whole saga.