24-year-old Ng Ming Wei is a local Taekwondo champion who clinched a gold at the 2017 Commonwealth Taekwondo Championships.
At the moment, he is among a group of local national taekwondo athletes with their sights set on qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and is currently working towards next April's Asian Qualification Tournament in Wuxi, China.
No longer a carded athlete
But beyond his challenges with the Singapore Taekwondo Federation (STF), a recent development might have thrown another spanner in the works on his journey to excel at the sport.
Ng revealed in a Facebook post on March 22 his discovery that his "carding status with Sport Singapore has been revoked".
This means, he explains, he will "no longer be entitled to any medical treatment and physiotherapy after April 2019".
Injured finger during training
Ng told Mothership he injured his little finger during a five-week training camp in Taiwan in December last year.
He only noticed it after he returned to Singapore — he had been taking painkillers for a few weeks prior to the injury and they helped mask the pain — and then eventually checked himself into Accident and Emergency (A&E) in January.
His doctor then diagnosed his injury as a "boxer's fracture" (which means he injured his finger while his fist was clenched) — this led him to believe he fractured it while sparring.
He underwent a surgery on January 24, and has been on medical leave from training since January 16.
What does being carded mean?
According to information listed on Sport Singapore's website, there are five different levels of carding: International (1), Continental (2), Regional (3), National (4) and Youth/Development (4P).
Ng told Mothership he was mostly carded at level 4 in the eight years that he was a carded athlete.
This means that he had access to sports medicine consultation and services.
And how about the process taken for an athlete to be carded?
According to Sport Singapore's website, National Sports Associations (NSAs) can "nominate their elite athletes to be carded (categorised) based on their achievements in the assessment period".
STF recommended Ng despite his "paltry achievements"
Responding to Mothership's queries about Ng's loss of carding status, STF General Manager Lim Teong Chin said Secretary General Wong Liang Ming had recommended Ng to Sport Singapore to be carded:
"... Ming Wei applied online for carding after Ms Wong Liang Ming reminded him to do so three times on 27 November, 5 December and 9 December 2018.
Ms Wong recommended his application despite his paltry achievements."
Ng reached out to Wong first on carding process, wasn't proactively chased
However, Ng disputed STF's statement, describing what they said as "inaccurate and misleading" as, he feels, it wrongly implies that he was tardy in submitting his carding application and needed reminders.
Ng told Mothership he had contacted Wong first on Nov. 27, 2018, to ask about the email on the carding application that he thought he had yet to receive.
The application for him to be carded covered the period of April 1, 2019, to March 31, 2020.
Wong responded to advise him to check his spam inbox, where he found the email as she said.
On the occasion of Dec. 5, Ng contacted Wong again to seek clarification on his carding application, because he had missed out certain areas.
Wong responded, and told him to submit his application by Dec. 6.
Ng: Delay in submission due to Wong's failure to respond to query
However, Ng told Mothership that Wong failed to reply to him "promptly", resulting in a delay in his application submission.
Despite Ng asking Wong on Dec. 5 if he could list her as his coach on his application, Wong did not respond until Dec. 7, saying that she would not be able to recommend Ng for carding if he did not put in the "number of participants and coach".
Ng said as Wong did not answer his question on putting her name down as his coach, he eventually did that anyway and submitted his application.
Subsequently, Ng also contacted Wong first on Dec. 9 to update her on his carding application. On this particular occasion, Wong did not appear to have addressed his messages regarding carding:
Sport Singapore: Support focused on athletes who "credibly demonstrate potential & performance"
Responding to Mothership's queries on the carding process for national athletes, as well as the rationale behind its decision not to continue with Ng's carding, Singapore Sports Institute chief Toh Boon Yi said an athlete's recent performance is taken into account when it comes to deciding his or her carding status:
“We encourage all athletes to strive to reach their full potential. Our support will then be focused on athletes who credibly demonstrate potential and performance.
The carding level of an athlete is carefully assessed based on past performances in the last 1-2 years, benchmarked against athletes from the region who will qualify for the SEA Games. The NSA and the athlete also have to provide a multi-year plan for the athlete, leading to future Major Games, or World and Asian Championships.
Athletes who have not performed satisfactorily at present to be carded, may still be re-assessed at a later stage should there be an upturn in their performance.
We also work with the NSAs to offer basic assistance to non-carded athletes who are selected to represent Singapore at competitions.”
Not taking part in SEA Games 2019
Previously, Ng told Mothership he had decided not to take part in the SEA Games this year, as he was unable to take a gap year due to a series of events involving his dealings with the STF.
He said the gap year was necessary to facilitate proper preparation for the Games fully, particularly because he would not be able to attend it either as the SEA Games schedule clashes with his semester exam period.
He did compete in the 2015 and 2017 SEA Games, though, and won a bronze in the 2015 edition.
STF also told Mothership previously that a gold from the SEA Games would surpass all his previous achievements, including the gold he received at the Commonwealth Taekwondo Championships.
This is because, it had said, medals at the event will "count more in the eyes of [Singapore's] local sports authority as compared to other G1 and other unlisted tournaments".
Competitive Taekwondo standards
According to the STF, the largest recognised global taekwondo body, World Taekwondo (WT), grades tournaments as follows:
- G20 (Olympic Games)
- G12 (WT World Taekwondo Championships)
- G8 (GP Final)
- G4 (GP Series, Continental Championships and Continental Multi-sport Games)
- G2 (Universiade, CISM World Games and WT G2 Open Tournaments)
- G1 (WT G1 Open Tournaments, Non Continental Multi-sport Games and World Military Championships).
STF also said the Commonwealth Taekwondo Championships was the only G1 event he won gold at in three years, and that it "attracts only six participants".
Responding to that particular assertion, Ng said there were seven (not six, although one was eventually disqualified because he missed the call for his bout after the weigh-in) participants at the Commonwealth Championships, as compared with six at the SEA Games that year.
Also, he added, he is the first Singaporean taekwondo athlete to win a G1-level gold medal in kyorugi (sparring).
He showed Mothership the listing for the 2017 SEA Games:
And the listing for the Commonwealth Taekwondo Championships:
That being said, STF pointed out that three of the athletes at the 2017 SEA Games were ranked in the world's top 100 Kyorugi players, as compared with the standard of the players Ng faced at the Commonwealth Championships — which consisted of participants who were either unranked or ranked below 100. Ng did not dispute this.
Training again in May
Meanwhile, Ng told Mothership his finger is recovering well after his surgery, and that he is currently doing occupational health therapy to restore his range of motion.
He plans to start training again on May 8, subject to his doctor's clearance.
"I want to continue training and competing towards 2020 Tokyo Olympics."
Fortunately, for now, Ng's medical bills are still covered under his previous carding status that allows for a maximum claim of S$8,000.
However, he will not be entitled to medical claims for new injuries he might sustain in future.
With regard to why his carding status was discontinued, Ng said he has been told by Sport Singapore that that is still under evaluation.
"I don't know why my carding has not been approved. To be fair to all parties, I therefore can't say its anyone's fault in particular.
All I know is that Sport Singapore decides on carding based on input from the STF and players."
Mothership has also reached out to Sport Singapore to find out how many national taekwondo athletes have been carded this year, and will update this article if we receive a response.
(Editor's note: New details regarding the disqualification of the seventh participant in the 2017 Commonwealth Championships, as well as the differing standards of the athletes competing in the Commonwealth as compared with the 2017 SEA Games, were added to the article on the evening of Tuesday, April 9, following clarifications issued by the STF and confirmed by Ng.)
Top image adapted via @mingweirocks