Ping Pong Meritocracy

September 1, 2008

A lot has been made over the Lee Bee Wah-table tennis saga. Her initial bravado in calling for heads to roll immediately after the Singapore women’s team won the silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and her whimpering apology last Friday led to several observations by bloggers elsewhere.


Observation 1: Typical PAP arrogance. Lee only took over the Singapore Table Tennis Association less than a couple of months ago and now she was throwing her weight around like seasoned pro.


Observation 2: She spoiled that nation’s celebration [boo-hoo].


Observation 3: Without forming a committee or conducting an investigation she went public on the sacking of personnel.


All these observations are important. However no one has discussed the rationale behind ‘abandoning’ Gao Ning to concentrate on the women paddlers – meritocracy. Gao Ning is ranked 12th in the world but he was no medal prospect. The women’s team was. As such, the women’s team comprising Li Jiawei, Feng Tianwei and Wang Yuegu was given preferential treatment by team manager Anthony Lee and head coach Liu Guodong.


This preferential treatment was meritocracy at work – pure and simple. Your reward is strictly commensurate with your talent or merit. If you’re a medal prospect, you get medal prospect attention. If you’re not, you get squat. You have limited resources, so you devote them to what would achieve you optimal results. That was why no coach was at Gao’s side when he was playing, they were busy tending to the women – the best (and only chance) for medals. After all, isn’t this what the sports foreign talent scheme is for?


Other ways in which the women’s team was nurtured included relegating Gao Ning to their sparring partner and providing them individual rooms at the Olympic games while the rest had to share.


There were so many instances of preferential treatment and yet Lee Bee Wah only chose to fly into a self-righteous rage over the absence of the coach at Gao Ning’s game. Why not be angry that the world’s 12th best player was treated as a mere sparring partner? Or that he had to share a room with other players and staff at the games, thus compromising his preparation?


Meritocracy is a noble ideology with an ugly side. Lee Bee Wah’s public outburst was nothing less than a rage against the unfair consequence of cold meritocracy. She was angry because the manager and coach identified talent and rewarded it. She was angry because the manager and coach made optimal use of our limited resources. The irony is that Lee was raging against the very ideology-mantra her PAP has been preaching to Singaporeans. Unfortunately this irony was lost on her and many other Singaporeans who followed the saga.


Gao Ning, our new Singaporean, welcome to the world of your fellow citizens. 



2 Responses to “Ping Pong Meritocracy”

  1. cry baby Says:

    When Gao Ning was welcome to Singapore, he felt like first class citizen.

    When he was asked to practise with ladies team, he became second class.

    Now when he lost at the Olympics, he dropped further to third class.

    And when he cried and complained no coach, he became no class.

  2. groundnotes Says:

    haha…nice one.

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