The public has been wondering about that ever since she posted this message on Facebook, ownself-crediting-owneself for getting Schooling to the Games.
Skeptics have berated her for overestimating her worth.
And it’s not often we say this, but Ah Huay did good compared to all other other colleagues.
Schooling’s family should definitely get the bulk of the public’s adulation for surviving and winning the uphill battle, which started back in 2010, when they engaged the then-Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports as well as the Singapore National Olympic Council in deferment talks.
Ah Huay’s attempts started a year after that, when she raised the issue in parliament on 8 Mar 2011.
Then, the Ang Mo Kio GRC MP said:
“What is the reason why they are not able to carry out such performance at senior level? Parents of male athletes have very often told me that National Service is a severe disruption to their progress. I do not know if any studies have been done in this respect. If this notion about National Service is true, then we should re-examine our policy.
In competitive sports, for athletes to retain their fitness level and dexterity requires constant rigorous training, almost on a daily basis. When the athletes go for National Service, their training regime is interrupted. While National Service training is no doubt rigorous and helps in maintaining fitness levels, it is a different type of training regime that does not promote further progress in their respective sports. Two years without training or interrupted training can lead to a significant dip in fitness and skills. By the time the athlete is ready to resume his sporting career, much more effort is required. He has to get into shape and to re-adjust to a new training regime. His competitors would have established new records and applied new techniques. Thus, our athletes would have to work doubly hard. I guess, by then, a lot of them would have lost interest as well. As such, if we want to be a sporting nation, we would need to look at our current policy and see how to help sportsmen pursue sporting excellence. I propose that MCYS work with MINDEF to provide flexibility to national athletes in serving National Service.”
Ah Huay also went a step further to propose NS exemption as a reward for good performance.
“National athletes should be allowed to defer their National Service to a later age, let us say, 30 years old, if they choose to pursue sporting excellence. To give further encouragement, if they achieved a gold medal in the Commonwealth Games or Asian Games, or any medal in the Olympics, they be exempted from National Service. Athletes can thus make a choice to do National Service as usual or defer their National Service and pursue sporting excellence. If they are indeed passionate about sports, and I believe many of our athletes are, they would want to give their all to get that gold medal. Competing for the nation’s honour requires plenty of sacrifices on the athlete’s part. They have to undergo daily rigorous training, lead a stringent lifestyle and spend weeks away from their family and loved ones for competition seasons. All these sacrifices are already akin to serving National Service for our country.”
A year later, Mdm Lee raised the issue in parliament again.
This was on 6 Mar 2012, after GE2011, when she tried to take on the Ministry of Defence which was helmed by Dr Ng Eng Hen.
“MCYS has done well with brilliant schemes that helped to unearth new talents and hone the abilities and achievements of Team Singapore. But we can do more to give young male athletes the opportunity when it presents itself. One hurdle they now face is to get deferment from National Service. To many athletes, taking two-year breaks is detrimental to an athlete’s career, especially when he is in his teens and at the upward climb of his performance. Two years of National Service is a very long break for just about anyone.”
She specifically raised the concerns of a young Joseph Schooling’s parents.
“Little wonder that parents of our 16-year-old swimming prodigy Joseph Schooling are worrying about the impact of National Service on their son’s Olympic dream. A recent Sunday Times report entitled “Joseph’s a bit special, can we help him to be even more?” accurately sums up the problems of the inflexible stance towards National Service deferment. Joseph is so talented that national swim teams like the US, Australia and Malaysia are believed to be interested in poaching him. American colleges are also inviting him to join them. Should he decide to further his swimming career in other countries, Singapore will not only lose an excellent opportunity for an Olympic medal, but also a very talented young athlete. It will be a short-sighted policy on promoting sports. Certainly, the security of our nation transcends any number of Olympic medals, and everyone has a role to play in national defence, but there can be more flexible ways to achieve this…
Prodigies like Joseph Schooling in a small Singapore are like diamonds; coming along only once in a while, fading and disappearing if we do not treasure them. Let us do the wise thing and bring our National Sports scene to even greater heights. Currently, America has “Linsanity”. Singapore will have “Josanity”, or even more, if we tweak the National Service policy now for all our deserving elite athletes.”
Dr Ng replied with the usual “MINDEF exercises flexibility when it came to NS deferment” “motherhood statement”.
Fortunately for Joseph Schooling and Daddy and Mommy Schooling, he was granted a deferment in 2013.
We’ll never know for sure how important Ah Huay’s badgering was, but at least we know she did try to chip away at MINDEF’s wall of stone.
In sports, we celebrate our medal winners and recognise the efforts our other athletes who gave their best shot despite winding up empty-handed.
At least Ah Huay tried, and tried again.