“Sorry, Joseph, Colin and May Schooling, Singapore Let You Down when You Needed Her Most”

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.





  1. Annette Phua

    August 16, 2016 at 7:35 am

    Our Govt must reimburse him the training fees & contd supporting plus funding his training in USA!!!

    • Jeremy

      August 16, 2016 at 3:56 pm

      What funding? Most of his funding is from US Taxpayers and scholarships. The guy has a US Green Card (PR) so he is not dependent on the Singapore Gov’t anymore.

      • Ong

        August 16, 2016 at 10:59 pm

        Dude, the medal he get is for Singapore not US. He can have as many PR or citizenship he want now but he still stay.

      • Ina

        August 17, 2016 at 5:38 am

        So what he has a green card…. He still needs to pay for everything else, health insurance, housing etc. The university sponsored his tuition fees cause of his excellency in sports. He is still a Singapore citizen. Singapore citizen should helped him when he needed her most!

      • Sue

        August 17, 2016 at 2:57 pm

        When he first went to the US, he didn’t have a green card nor any funding from US taxpayers. His own family forked out the amount that would otherwise have been saved if the Singapore govt didnt decide that table tennis with chinese imports were more important. That’s why they closed the center of excellence.

        And just because he has a green card, doesn’t mean he’s not a singapore citizen. Green cards are just permanent residency status. It doesn’t change citizenships.

        BTW if he’s not dependant on the SG Govt anymore, why were they howling for him to complete NS? Why do they take a portion of his winnings? Especially the swimming association which had no hand in him becoming a champion.

        Annette is right. The govt should reimburse the family for out of pocket expenses especially since Singapore wants to share in the glory. Not taking more money from the Schoolings.

      • PleaseLah

        August 17, 2016 at 11:03 pm

        People who commented: Jeremy is not saying he’s staying or not, and not talking about his citizenship, what you arguing? Creating your own topic under ppl’s comment and answer yourself. Smart. And for Phua, do you see the point here? He doesn’t need SG gov to fund him from this point, he can get tons of sponsors and continue his practice with the reward. What he needed was when he was in need no one stood up, and this is about awareness not repay. And Pleaselah that cut, do you see Mark’s primary teacher come to claim part of Facebook’s share? Ridiculous attitude.

  2. Andrea

    August 16, 2016 at 8:40 am

    As a former sports teacher I rexognise how important it is to grow talent from a young age and give opportunity to a wide base. All children should be engaged in a range of sports at school. Not only will they pick up skills, they will work together better and have a potential hobby for life.
    From this broad base, teachers can identify and nuture talent. These will be your future Olympiads. Just as in the Greek times, heroes of the games can justly be feted for representing their country and the government and people can hold their heads high for supporting these people.

  3. Eeling

    August 16, 2016 at 9:02 am

    Gov are the one who need to transform theirs mindsets . They look down on Singaporean

  4. Ben

    August 16, 2016 at 10:41 am

    No point writhing all these, everyone knows our garment, they believe in FT, not Singaporean! A bunch of HYPOCRITES in the cabinet…now all come and claim credits…hahaha, wat a joke…

    • AC

      August 16, 2016 at 2:40 pm

      Well said, Ben!!

  5. Vincent

    August 16, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    Quite honestly, it was good that Senior Schooling made that decision, otherwise, Junior may not have made it to the top of the world under the stressful education system in Singapore.

  6. Tan

    August 16, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    If I were Joseph Schooling, I would see to my obligation to serve NS after 2020 Olympics.

    The Schoolings (Family) have given us more than we actually deserve. Joseph has brought Singapore’s recognition on to the world stage, if not all, mostly on their own family funding.
    Let this achievement be placed on history record. Just like our CPF, on the screen and prints only.

    Joseph Schooling could bring along his well deserved medal and head to the US to settle down. Possibly bring his family along. All the monies thrown in by way of endorsement and sponsorship which will run into millions and the sky is the limit. He should be able to let his family live comfortably there.

    There is nothing the country has done for them. I personally will not blame him for heading anywhere he will gain recognition and handsomely rewarded. In fact, they would have my full blessings too.

    It is usually said, ask what you can do for your country and not the other way around.

    But I say to the Schoolings what I always believe, if you do not think for yourself, no one else will think for you. Strike when the iron is still hot.

    • Shang

      August 16, 2016 at 8:46 pm

      Totally agreed

  7. SG

    August 16, 2016 at 2:19 pm

    Should show the photo with Tony Tan putting the gold medal on his neck….

    • Amir

      August 17, 2016 at 12:11 am

      Ya man, KFC Colonel not paiseh.

    • Anonymous

      August 17, 2016 at 12:10 pm

      B his godson landed in paliment.Yang yin b other godson landed in jail ha ha no need to wear medal.

  8. Roland C Rozario

    August 16, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    The People In Power (PIP) …aka The Singapore Government (PAP)…. should at least reimburse May and Colin Schooling the total expense incurred for courageously in the belief in their only Joseph to fulfill his dreams to qualify for the Olympics!

    Joseph did more than that.
    He excelled and achieved for himself and his parents in garnering The Gold Medal in swimming, notwithstanding the sacrifice that I’m sure took a toll on the family!
    Both financially and emotionally!

    That being said, Joseph’s achievement and the role model he’s been will surely inspire other young true blue Singaporeans to excel in both their academic and sporting excellence!
    The bottom line is financial support!

    May and Colin Schooling managed to eke out every little of their savings to ensure ….
    ‘Joseph And His Amazing Dream’ is achieved!
    Factually, not every average working class Singaporeans are able to do this!

    The Government and Singapore’s ‘legal gambling house’…Tote Board/Singapore Pools, are in that position and must be the bodies to allow the dreams of Singaporean children who have and prove their potential to follow in the path of Singapore’s Golden Olympian, Joseph Schooling!
    Then the singing of glory by these Bodies are theirs to sound and acclaim and shout for their financial support of their very own born and bred Singapore Children!

    • Hiko

      August 17, 2016 at 9:21 pm

      Unfortunately, the takings are so good that it has to go to the consolidated fund of the government and count towards rewards for political office holders. When Toto was started in 1968, the takings after prize distributions and administrative costs were supposed to FULLY go towards sports, such as the National Stadium and sending competitors to regional and international competitions like the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, SEA Games and promotion of sports.

  9. Amir

    August 16, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    I am glad someone (Redwire) wrote the other side of the story. I salute Mdm Lee Bee Wah to have the heart and the courage to speak up. Firstly, full time athletic training is as “siong” or if not “siong-er” than NS. Ok fair enough, different kind of “siong” but still siong. Imagine asking you to swim like 60km a week!!! Wtf. IMHO, it is NSF. Winning against the odds. Three world class swimmers chasing after you. Taller, stronger. Desperately trying to catch you, all finish at the same time. Bro Jo, you pipped them. Not a flash in the pan. An Olympic Record!! Top that. NSF mission accomplished.

    To move forward to SG100, we need to re-think our policies. Things change. Times change. Remember our mistakes? “Two is enough”. Now “two is not enough even”.

    Secondly, I feel for his parents. It was all for their dearest son. You guys Rock!!! This is what we call a “Father-Mother Scholarship”. Kudos to them. A Dream, a Vision, a Mission and a Victory.

    Thirdly. If the SSC and the SSA really really want to deserve the effort and the limelight. Then invest. Invest truly, with an open heart, open mind. No demanding conditions. Spot the talent, nurture. I think many talents may have slipped past. We are a “kiasu” society, who emphasizes on returns conditions. You can invest in hundreds or thousands of young talents, but only get one hit. That’s your return. Time to change mindsets.

    Why the US is so successful? in start ups, sporting talents and businesses? Because they are open minded. They invest. They sow the seeds with no expectation. You get hit after hit after hit. Look at University of Texas, by offering the scholarship what do they get? Jo competing for them at the college level. In fact the ulterior motive may be to get him over to become a US citizen. This is how you attract talent and the more talent you have the stronger your next generation is. Singapore we must learn from the finest.

    To the Schooling family, well done!!! all the best. Enjoy the high of success. Savour your “Chye Tow Kueh” with your Gold medal as a spoon. Cheers.

    • Anonymous

      August 17, 2016 at 8:46 am

      So well spoken. Agree wholeheartedly.

  10. Daniel

    August 16, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    Singapore has a ready made mentality
    Relationship they go for ready success.
    Companies don’t have a grooming mentality and they wonder why one have to job hop
    And that’s why Schooling father asked regarding his ns
    If they weren’t supportive of us why should we be supportive of them ?
    Our mentality is influenced by the culture and it’s influenced by our leaders

  11. AC

    August 16, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    Ben, I like what you have wrote. I also totally agreed of what you have wrote here. Thumbs UP!!

  12. Plow

    August 16, 2016 at 3:13 pm

    Sounded sad for schoolings family to spent so much and no help from government. now that he has done us proud, something should be done for him. This national pride he has won for Singapore is definitely something worth more than a million.

  13. Wilson

    August 16, 2016 at 3:42 pm

    The Singapore government will share in the lime light when there is success. But lack the support to build home grown athletes to full potential. This is Simagpore for you. I am speaking as a proud Singaporean. But certain areas in Singapore however lack the foresight and wisdom to take the country to the next level in the global sense.

  14. Jeremy

    August 16, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    1. Most of Schoolings tab is picked up by UT Austin and much of his education was sponsored by scolarships etc thanks to US Taxpayers.
    2. He has a US PR by way of a Green Card and will eventually have to convert that into a citizenship due to current US Laws.

    I give all the credit to him for his victory as its purely on his effort. Singapore is just hopping on the bandwagon to steal his glory.
    I would give Singapore the credit had he done all his training in Singapore but that is not the case.

    The kid even has a Texas accent, Texas Girl (not Singaporean), blatantly promotes Texas in everything he wears. Is he even Singaporean anymore?
    Do relaise that once someone applies for US PR that is their exit pass from their current citizenship. It is not easy and always done for a reason.

  15. ptraj

    August 16, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    The story is simple.

    You cannot have blooming sporting individuals serving their National Service between 18 to 20 yrs of age.

    This is the age when they need top class training to set themselves apart from the boys to become sportsmen.

    Sadly they can only get that overseas.
    So the government has to find a way to spot potential champions and give them the best training they deserve .

    NS is a huge problem that has been hampering boys in Singapore to achieve the greatness that they deserve.

    Please solve it.

  16. Tan Tado

    August 16, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    If I were Joseph Schooling, I will migrate to the U.S. They’ll surely support my athletic dream and finance everything I need. Plus the exposure is great.

  17. Malcolm pereira

    August 16, 2016 at 4:57 pm

    Reading all the comments
    I. Really feel sad. for u n your family for what they have gone thru tfor you to achieve a gold at Rio bear this mind u r still considerd
    As Others as far as your status is. Concerned
    I hope u would consider some of the suggestions where big opportunities awaits u strike when the Gold is your hands
    Good luck Joe n all the Best in whatever u do
    God Bless

  18. Nataneil

    August 16, 2016 at 5:37 pm

    Please, Singapore Govt, don’t tax him a cent and swimming assoc. too. He has done much more for his country than his country has done for him.

  19. Mike

    August 16, 2016 at 6:08 pm

    Why doesnt the Singaporean government adopt a similar strategy as the Swiss have regarding competitive young athletes and national military service? Our competitive athletes have the opportunity to train in their specific sport in Mattlingen, Switzerland where a massive Sports Facility is located while regular citizens serve their NS. Our countries athletes serve their country by representing it on the global stage, I think that is already a fair trade off.

  20. Adelene

    August 16, 2016 at 6:16 pm

    I m happy for your achievement too, being a Singaporean. Keep up your good work.

    Singapore did not let you down. Success is NOT JUST DREAM.
    Champion is 99% hardwork +1% inborn talent. Success come only after years later, but a child who has to be nurtured from young is the parents’ BASIC responsibility, not government (contrary to the headline ‘SIngapore let you down’ especially in pursuit for personal dream).

    A COUNTRY”s government responsibility is nurture a child on LITERACY level, a must skill to prepare them for adult life. I am glad you like your sports, and our government carefully allocate tax payers money to heavily subsidise your school fee in studying here in Singapore., before your oversea studies. Without heavy subsidy in school, your parents would need to pay every single cents, that lessen them having to allocate all available finance to fund for your sports.

    My two daughters, just like you, have passion in different sports/- They pursue Music n gymnastics.I always tell them, do their best in every aspect, every little things and not to forget to pass it on to the next generation the knowledge, and allocate financial resources to take care of the frail, underprivileged people who cannot do things like you do because of no funding from government, in the case of poor family.

    THINK before comment.

  21. Jeanelle

    August 16, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    Salute to the schooling family! He doesn’t have to serve national service.. He has served more personal time for the nation. If others wants to compare go get a gold for singapore.

  22. Karen

    August 16, 2016 at 8:32 pm

    I think our government really suck!! Never help Schooling’s family financially yet now take credis for his Olympic gold medal which his parents paid throughout these years out of their pockets. Actually Schooling can settle in other country which appreciate his talents and support his training, without pressurizing him to go NS.

  23. Edwin

    August 17, 2016 at 1:42 am

    Our government can learn from this lesson. There no short cut to success. Not buy foreign talent to take part or win medals for Singapore. Invest like you invest in Temasek or the GIC. groom our own fellow Singaporean. See what those bought talents did? It is shameful for a us. Our own fellow Singaporean finance himself and the govt finance other country. Sad. Simply sad.

  24. Su-Chong Lim

    August 17, 2016 at 3:17 am

    Give the kid a break. He has put in a lifetime of discipline and hard work, and despite early recognition of his talent by others, there never was any guarantee of success at any point on the way. His parents sacrificed all in their financial and moral support of Joseph and his aspirations, and are equally modest and uncritical of lack of support from all quarters. A really class act all round. There truly lies the lesson for Singaporeans to emulate, not the after-the-fact grandstanding of the hangers on and wanna-bes. It appears he truly loves to compete and to do his best, even if it means risking failing. We should all try to be like that.

  25. David Chow

    August 17, 2016 at 4:42 am

    All y’all with the must serve NS demand.
    There is sacrifice and there is law mandated.
    All y’all who have served the NS, all y’all did not sacrifice, all y’all were mandated to serve period.
    The Schoolings, they were not mandated to pursue to be an Olympic gold medalist, they sacrificed, they sacrificed and brought all y’all pride.
    With that said, all y’all please, zip it.

  26. Dave

    August 17, 2016 at 1:09 pm

    Thanks for the story. It seems there is always an interesting political backdrop to Olympic successes, whether strong support or- like Schooling- a lack thereof.

    However it is sad that this article still pushes casual racism. I know the Singaporean people use the term ang moh in good humour but realistically the race of Schooling’s dad and the officials that supported/didn’t support his bid are irrelevant.

    Again I know it is a fun rather than insulting term but it’s disappointing to read.

    I think Singaporeans deserve to feel proud of their son and otherwise thank the author for the article.

  27. Gerald

    August 17, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    I like to share my own personal experience. I had 2 children who were aspiring golfers. To be a world class athelete you cannot do it alone. You need get free acess to training facilities and devote all your time to hone your technical skills, access to sports science specialists to develop specialise nutritional program and strenght & conditional training, and acess to sports pychologist for mental training. Sadly here in Singapore it is not easy to gain access to these. Our Singapore mentality for success, as rightly said earlier is invest in “ready made”, they dont have a culture to invest resources when the “rate of return” is uncertain. To get one strong tree we first need to plant seeds, provide them with water and nutrition and accept that some will bear tastier fruits than others. I hope JS’s success story changes the mindsets of our sports association, our big corporations and our government

  28. Badmutha23

    August 17, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    Should have stayed in Ipoh lah. The Sultan of Perak would grant him at least what Singaporeans called “a landed property” and a Datuk title instantly! Set lah after that…!

  29. Longbean

    August 17, 2016 at 8:55 pm

    What tax? Where does the $1m come from? It’s from the government who’s paying it with taxpayers’ money.

    The 20% is contribution to the sports association that uses the money for programs that grooms future generations, which isn’t what everyone is calling for here?

  30. MTSW

    August 17, 2016 at 10:11 pm

    I feel that it is wrong to say that the Government didn’t help Joseph at all.By spending the 1 mil on school fees,it was more of an investment for Jospeh’s future.And if the Government really did pay for Joseph’s school fees,i’m afraid Singaporeans will just make more noice because the taxes are going up.Its a chain reaction,so i don’t think it is feasible for the Government to do that.Moreover by winning more gold medals for SG,he will earn back many folds more than the money spent on his school fees.Therefore, i do not see why not.

  31. Steve

    August 18, 2016 at 11:27 am

    Sorry to interject but have any of you considered that despite the challenges Joseph and his family faced, perhaps it’s that hardship that gave the lion it’s heart?

    Be grateful and blessed Schooling family, while the system may have failed you, it also inadvertently gave you the determination to find gold.

    The legacy fairy tail will inspire others and be told around dinner tables for decades

    Well done

  32. Henry Siew

    August 18, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    Congratulations to JS and parents, you deserve the highest accolades for an imposible mission achieved, an Olympic Gold! In the history of the Olympics, beside Mr Tan Howe Liang, JS made history for Singapore and as Singaporeans we share his pride in winning the Gold. His achievements was due to his own personal motivation and having visionary and supportive parents. I also salute those who have a part in JS success formula. We Singaporean should stop talking about his green cards as we have to look inwards on our own immigration policy. Singapore Garment and together with JS should have dialogue , work out a scheme towards achieving more success in swimming competitions, ie Gold in 2020.

  33. Ashish

    August 18, 2016 at 7:24 pm

    Instead of saying thanks to SG for providing this great infrastructure you are whinning about the fact to send off your kid to US for training in the “best” school. You have no idea what guys do to win gold medal for their country..shame

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