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Schooling thanks his first coach

Olympic gold medallist Schooling shows gratitude to his first coach at TMCC event

I have never seen a student like Joe. He was always punctual. He followed instructions to a tee and he gave his 100 per cent at training. - TMCC swimming coach Vincent Poon (right) on his former student Joseph Schooling (left)
GOOD COMPANY: TMCC chairman Ng Kee Choe (fifth from right) flanked by Joseph Schooling and his father Colin, with other committee members. 

Salutations aside, they hardly spoke much.

The one-minute dialogue was largely dominated by monosyllables.

"Many thanks, Uncle Poon," was how Joseph Schooling opened his conversation with Vincent Poon.

And Schooling's first coach and mentor Poon replied: "Well done".

The momentous occasion probably did not lend itself to keeping them engaged in conversation.

For everyone, in the 100-odd crowd - armed with either handphones, autograph books, caps, tee shirts or just slips of paper - wanted a part of Schooling.

Yesterday's meeting took place at Tanah Merah Country Club's (TMCC) Garden Lounge, where the club honoured and hailed Schooling.

There were banners, posters and a makan kechil to show the club's gratitude for his historic Olympic gold medal - Singapore's first - victory in Rio.

It was a private gathering where club chairman Ng Kee Choe and his general committee turned up in force to welcome home a junior member who started his swimming career at the distinguished club.

Looking weary and still jet-lagged after yet another day of sporting engagements since his arrival from Brazil on early Monday morning, Schooling's face lit up when he met Poon.

For as the 21-year-old megastar acknowledged later, he would not be where he is - at the summit of world swimming and global fame - if not for the springboard set up by Poon at the TMCC pool when he was only four.

Poon, 69, a reputed coach who still teaches at TMCC, said: "I have never seen a student like Joe. He was always punctual.

"He followed instructions to a tee and he gave his 100 per cent at training.


"What struck me most about him was his fearlessness.

"He would accept any challenge. I am truly proud of him."

Later in an address to the gathering at TMCC's Garden Lounge, Schooling said: "I remember Uncle Poon giving the other kids a 10-second advantage and making me do catch-up over one length of the pool.

"I got my butt kicked most of the time. But all the hard work has paid off."

Then, in a tribute to his former coach, Schooling said: "In fact, this event belongs not to me, but to Uncle Poon.

"For he played a great part in making me what I am today."

The applause from the crowd certainly underscored the point.

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Singapore flagged by IOC for ambush marketing

Joseph Schooling.

There are set meals named after him, travel discounts because of his historic achievement, and congratulatory messages put out with brand logos and products alongside his name and face.

Singapore is in celebratory mood after the 21-year-old won the country's first Olympic gold medal, but TNP understands that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has written in to the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC), raising the issue of Rule 40.

The rule was established to protect official sponsors of the Olympics, prevent over-commercialisation of the Games and ambush marketing which might use athletes to create an unlicensed association with the Olympics.   

Sources reveal that after receiving correspondence from the IOC, the SNOC has written to companies asking them to refrain from using Olympic-related images to market their own products.

In response to TNP queries, an SNOC spokesman said: "While we celebrate Joseph's victory, we must also stand guided by the rules and guidelines protecting the assets and marks of the Games. Henceforth, we would like to advise commercial entities to comply with these rules and not infringe or exploit the assets for commercial purposes."

Rule 40 of the IOC charter states that "except as permitted by the IOC executive board, no competitor, team official or other team personnel who participates in the Olympic Games may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes during the Olympic Games."

Managing director of sports marketing agency Red Card Group, R Sasikumar, said that some companies have gone too far.

"Too many brands are riding on Joseph's coattails not having paid a single dollar to him. Some have taken out full-page ads in the papers, where before they've not supported local sports. This is ambush marketing," he said.

Schooling himself has not even started thinking about riding the wave of his success to the doorsteps of corporations.

"I saw some deals and a tea place offering free tea for me and my family.

"It's pretty cool and I appreciate that, but right now, I haven't really thought about that (endorsements)," he told TNP.

"This is all still fresh to me, I'm trying to soak up the moment, trying to celebrate this with everyone, let it sink.

"Those endorsement deals and stuff, I'll think about them after this, not now."

Divided over Schooling's viability

Experts divided over viability of Schooling and his achievement as a marketing vehicle for corporations  

CELEBRATION: Singaporeans are rejoicing in Joseph Schooling's (in red) historic triumph but experts are not sure about him becoming the next big endorsement icon.

Singapore just cannot get enough of Joseph Schooling.

From Parliament to schools, newspaper advertisements to tattoo parlours and atop taxi cabs, the 21-year-old's likeness, name and history-making achievement are appearing everywhere, even in the virtual space.

There is little doubt that the University of Texas (UT) undergraduate has an easy disposition in front of cameras, coming across as a gentleman, while also sending vibes of grit and gumption - all attributes that make him an ideal candidate for corporate endorsements.

Student athletes at UT and other similar universities in the United States are governed by National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules that prevent athletes from accepting "payment for participating" in their sports, and from being represented by an agent to market their "athletic skills or reputation".

While this means that Schooling can only obtain commercial deals two years later after he graduates, marketing experts The New Paper spoke to are divided on endorsement deals for the Singapore history-maker.


Lagardere Sports' managing director of Asia and the Middle East, Ashoke Sengupta, raises a valid question on the impact commercial obligations could have on Schooling. 

"The focus should be on meeting his needs and helping him shape his legacy," said Sengupta whose organisation has on its athlete portfolio, golf's two-time Major winner Jordan Spieth, tennis' Simona Halep and American Football stars such as Khalil Mack.

"We need to suggest a sustainable approach that will ensure his continued success in and out of the pool, and help him create the legacy that he hopes to emulate like his hero Michael Phelps," said Sengupta.

"This also raises the question of whether the immediate commercialisation of an athlete's success, which comes with its fair share of commitments, is necessarily the best step forward at this juncture."

While Sengupta believes Schooling's "star is shining bright and his appeal transcends all strata", Patrick Nally does not think that Schooling should put too much hope in endorsement deals.

Nally is credited with brokering the deal that saw Coca Cola start what is now 40-year partnership with Fifa, and is widely regarded as a founding father of sports marketing.


 "What a homecoming he'd have got when he returned to Singapore, but in six months' time it'll be difficult to reignite the same kind of fire, much like the Brazilian pole vaulter.

"People have short term memories," said Nally, pointing to Schooling being restricted by NCAA rules.

Thiago Braz da Silva struck gold in the pole vault in a football-mad country, with Nally predicting that he will fade into the background of the Brazilian psyche.  

"(Schooling) will get offers from his home market, get invited to events, invited to speak, but it'll be difficult to convert (this Olympic win) into long term revenue - it's hard.

"There's good media hype now, but after some time, his Olympic success goes into the record books, and unfortunately swim events don't attract a lot of attention outside of the Olympics, compared to football, golf and tennis," he said.

"I've not known other than very few athletes - like Michael Phelps, obviously - who have made sustainable endorsement deals because they have become icons of their sport."


Dentsu Sports Asia's president and chief executive Kunihito Morimura agrees with Nally's assessment of the fleeting nature of memory, but insists that Schooling's achievements, personality and disposition will still be sought after, even two years down the road.

"Joseph is now the most marketable athlete that Singapore has ever produced.

"His story from simple childhood swimmer to Olympic champion resonates with everyone.

"And his incredibly humble demeanour, good looks and 'boy next door' charm make him very attractive for corporate clients in Singapore, across Asia and even internationally, who would love to associate their brands with Joseph," he said.

"His star is brightest now but, as long as he stays in the public eye, he can maintain his marketability through to the next Olympics in Tokyo 2020.

"I believe that as long as Joseph stays healthy, keeps competing and maintains the same excellent demeanour which makes him such an outstanding role model, his image will remain very strong, which in turn can help him capitalise commercially even in two years down the road after he graduates," he added.   


 While his Olympic gold will go down in the history books, Schooling is not Singapore's first sporting darling to attract big corporate attention.

Former national football captain Fandi Ahmad was Singapore's first millionaire athlete, and he continues to score with endorsement deals till today.

"I've worked with sports brands like Royal Sporting House, Diadora, Lotto and Converse, drinks companies, made appearances, worked with charities and homes and I've even given talks," said Fandi, whose five-year deal with Royal Sporting House, signed in 1996, was worth $1 million.

"It wasn't hard to manage endorsement work with training, companies I've worked with have always worked around my schedule, but then I've always had good advice," he added.

"What Joseph did was make history, and I'm sure companies will want to work with and support him commercially."

But former world champion bowler Remy Ong, sees challenges ahead of Schooling.

"Getting endorsements is hard, when I was world champion, I got several product sponsorships, but to get cash sponsorships was very difficult," he said.

"Companies here tend not to back athletes because there isn't much mileage there. They look at their return on investment, and how they might get more from backing (actresses like) Fann Wong."

Ong is trying to help change that with his digital marketing company, Sponzer Group, which is aimed at linking sportspersons with corporations.  

"Sports is a great risk, unlike being a doctor or lawyer, you might be a hero one moment, but a beggar further down the road, after your playing days are done.

"Joseph's gold has brought much spark to the sports fraternity here - it's inspiring - and I hope he does more, while also taking care of himself."

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