Time for Singapore the sports nation to rattle noise: Leonard Thomas
After a number of highs, capped off by Schooling's Rio swim, Singapore sport seems to have lost momentum
It didn't quite turn into the Kop but, for the briefest moment at least, when MP Lee Bee Wah quoted a passage from that Liverpool hymn in Parliament last week, sport raised some noise in Singapore.
The chatter was welcome, even if the focus was on an English football club, because this country used to live and breathe sport, but sport hardly raises a beat these days and it makes me wonder whether it still has a seat at the main table in the country today.
Former Singapore ambassador to the United Nations Tommy Koh, now an ambassador-at-large, launched a book in late January titled 50 Secrets of Singapore's Success, and sport was not in it.
Over the last few months, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) has been pilloried for once again raising an ambition to qualify for the World Cup Finals in 2034 and the once-proud track and field has continued to flail pitifully, as it staggers from one crisis to another.
I no longer feel the kind of excitement that used to be generated by athletes from the Sports School and I struggle to understand the explanations from our sailing chiefs over why our sailors no longer make the kind of splash they once did on the continent.
It does feel as if Singapore sport has failed to capitalise on momentum.
Joseph Schooling showed us the way when he presented the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) with a detailed blueprint for Olympic success and was granted deferment from National Service in 2013, and delivered beautifully in 2016.
Yet, only one more athlete, fellow swimmer Quah Zheng Wen, has followed in his footsteps, coming up with a similar plan and getting the green light from Mindef to try and achieve a similar feat, this time at this year's Tokyo Olympics.
If the plan is serious and detailed, Mindef has shown it will support the mission and grant deferment.
It is why I would have expected the FAS to have tapped on Fandi Ahmad's link with Ajax Amsterdam and presented what should be officially christened a Schooling blueprint to Mindef for four or five talented young footballers with big dreams to be working at the world-famous Dutch club's academy.
It was only eight years ago when the nation celebrated the Lions' fourth triumph at the Asean championship, becoming South-east Asia's most successful country in the region's biggest football competition then.
Today, Singapore's No. 1 sport is struggling to even be among the top four in a football backwater.
Less than five years ago, Shanti Pereira took my breath away when she won the women's 200m at the SEA Games at the new National Stadium.
At the time 18, she thrilled more than 10,000 fans to become the first female sprinter from Singapore to win gold at a sprint event at the SEA Games in 42 years.
I urged the authorities to name the bend she flew round so effortlessly as The Shanti Curve, or Shanti Bend, as a sports nation would do, and hoped she would head off to the United States to train.
On all counts, there has been no progress, and Shanti has struggled to hit similar heights as track and field flounders.
Ever so often, when I get into conversation with either officials from a struggling national sports association or officials from governing body Sport Singapore (SportSG), I can't help but feel some undercurrent of distrust between the two parties.
When, there should be an even closer working relationship to right the ship.
With some of the highest participation rates at school level, Singapore Athletics should get back to the basics and identify five talented youngsters at every school, for a start, and hire a group of quality coaches to work on them in an initiative backed by SportSG and the Ministry of Education.
The Singapore sports scene is littered with examples of young athletes who make waves at junior level, but then fail to make the transition and join elite company at senior level.
Lessons must be learnt and corrections made by the professionals at the Singapore Sports Institute.
The Government has not shied away from building infrastructure, as evidenced by the $1.3 billion Sports Hub, the upcoming Kallang Football Hub and Singapore Tennis Centre, and various other sports facilities that have sprung up or been renovated all over the country.
Now, it is time to get the coaching system right and ensure officials work for the good of sport, to give every chance for stars to rise.
Singapore will never be about winning medals and trophies consistently on the world stage.
The country must instead ensure there is a strong foundation, on which individual athletes and various teams are consistently churned out well-schooled in the basics and are very fit physically and mentally, to maximise their talent.
Then, when the next young Schooling comes along, or a Tan Howe Liang or Wong Peng Soon emerges, or a pride of Lions sprinkled with stardust begin to prowl with menace, the well-oiled system will help ensure the country can belt itself in for a magical ride.
Singapore has always been a sports country, where thousands of all races and religion, old and young, friends and family, headed off as one to cheer on the nation's athletes and teams, ensuring they never walked alone.
But turnout these days is consistently poor and there is little noise. Singapore sport needs to come alive and raise a ruckus again.