RONALD LEE: They had to jump through hoops to make this win happen. Yet even as the former “aggressors” try to jump on the bandwagon, the Schooling family has behaved with grace and dignity. But the lines on Colin Schooling’s forehead, the crows feet around his eyes, tell the tale of sweet victory after a long battle with the bureaucracy.
Back in 2008, the Swimming Association shut down its Centre of Excellence. That’s when Colin was convinced by ex-COE coach Jack Simon that the young Joseph had to be sent to the US if he wanted a shot at the Olympics. So, the family packed their son off and shipped him to Bolles School, which is a school that specialises in training athletes – swimmers in particular. One year’s school fees cost at the institution cost around S$65,000, not including transport, accommodation and other daily expenses.
Colin Schooling estimated that the family has spent over S$1 million grooming the youngster. That’s in addition to the heartache of separation – the family only spend about 3 weeks of together time a year.
Fortunately for the Schoolings, Joseph was awarded a scholarship by the University of Texas, which has one of the top 5 swimming programs amongst US universities. But even then, there were personal out-of-pocket costs which the family needed to bear. Where was the government in all this?
Then came the big NS tussle.
Said May Schooling in an interview back in 2013:
“They asked if he can serve 6 months (3 months of basic and vocational training each) then go back to the States to train… I told them very clearly: I’m trying to teach my son to be loyal to this country But why should he be loyal to a country that doesn’t even support him when he wants to achieve swimming success for (it)”
Not an “exemption”, but a simple deferment so Schooling could train and make it to the Olympics. Now, Singaporeans are writing letters to ask for Joseph Schooling to be exempted from NS. Unfortunately, there was little support for him when he was still struggling to make his mark on the biggest sporting stage in the world. Then, even among Singaporeans, there were factions who demanded that he serve NS “just like any other Singaporean man would when his time comes, otherwise it would be unfair to others”.
And, besides MP Lee Bee Wah, you couldn’t squeeze a word of support for Schooling from any other government official. The silence was deafening, even from the Singaporean public. It appeared that it was Mom against the Machine.
Luckily for Mom, 2 ang mohs , amongst other foreigners, were on her side.
“Top authorities in the world came in to help us and supply us with all the information we needed. For example, Gregg Troy, the men’s head coach at USA swimming then, and Bill Sweetenham, who was an advisor to the Singapore Sports Council, all wrote letters supporting Joseph. “They’re the ones who can see talent, and they say he will be world-class.”
At the same time, government officials of the day were busying themselves with the practice of importing foreign talents and grooming them with public monies. Yes, Singapore did win big. Li Jiawei won silver and bronze Olympic medals, got her big monetary rewards, then headed home to China.
So, sorry, Joseph, Colin and May Schooling. Singapore let you down when you needed her the most.
When you needed the money, little was forthcoming, while much of it spent on bringing in “quick-fix” foreigners. When you needed that precious deferment, the government bent, but only grudgingly after many years. And even as government agencies tried to kill the dreams of a young man struggling to fulfill his potential, the public stood by and simply watched. Government leaders turned a blind eye.
Now, the government wants its tax money from your S$1 million winnings. The swimming association wants its cut of S$200,000 too. And the University of Texas, which gave you a scholarship, will take nothing due to new US regulations.
How’s that for justice?
Schooling, displaying the iron nerve of his parents in the pool and their magnanimity off it, said in an interview after his race:
“I’m not going to lie. The first guy through the door, through the wall is always bloody. I have to take that blow and I’m thankful and I’m blessed that I have the ability to accomplish this. I hope this opens a new door, more doors for sports in our country and hopefully I’ve set a precedent for a lot more young guys to come up through.”
Thank you, the Schooling family, for your sacrifice, and for bringing honour to a tiny nation that doesn’t deserve what you have given us.