Li Jiawei returning to China after retirement

From ‘Li Jiawei’s departure a loss to Singapore’, 1 Jan 2013, ST Forum

(Christopher Chong): IT WAS disappointing to learn that former world table tennis champion Li Jiawei (right), who came to Singapore on the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme, will be returning to China (“Hard for Li to say goodbye”; last Friday).

Singapore is losing someone who has had an impressive list of contributions and achievements; someone who has won countless medals for us and earned an estimated $1.27 million from the Multi-Million Dollar Award Programme.

I am disappointed also because her departure lends support to those who doubt the long-term commitment of our foreign-born athletes: Will they return to their countries of origin after they are done with their sporting careers here?

Singapore should not be seen as “buying” success – fast-tracking citizenship for our foreign-born athletes, only for them to return to their countries of origin when they can no longer win medals for us. While Li has indicated that she will continue contributing to Singapore, it is unclear if she intends to remain a Singapore citizen, and whether her family will move here in future.

As a Singaporean, my wish for the new year – and the years ahead – is not to lose any more talented citizens.

Li Jiawei’s not the first foreign-born athlete to return to her homeland after a sporting stint here. Another naturalised player and former compatriot Zhang Xueling quit the game after just 7 years as a Singaporean, moving to Beijing to join her Chinese husband only to endure his sudden and tragic demise. In the interview, Zhang had initially wanted to settle down in her adopted country, but things ‘didn’t go as planned’. In 2008, another top shuttler and Singaporean Li Li resigned abruptly and returned to Wuhan to spend CNY with her parents, citing ‘personal reasons’ and ‘fatigue’. Fellow shuttlers Zhang Beiwen and Gu Juan followed suit barely a YEAR after being granted citizenship. None of those who departed have been seen or heard since. I doubt they can even get past the first line of Majulah Singapura.

It’s probably the same ‘change of plans’ with Jiawei here, for whatever personal reasons that she decided to move back to China. Many would recall her high-profile turbulent relationship with ex-fiance Ronald Susilo, and her similarly public marriage to a Chinese businessman right up to her pregnancy and birth of her Singaporean boy. Who knows, if Ronald and Jiawei had worked out and stayed for good, critics wouldn’t be howling ‘I told you so!’ at the STTA right after the her retirement announcement. Some may have noticed her slow creep back to the motherland when she took part in the China Super Table Tennis League playing for BEIJING University. Now, there’s the possibility of us not just losing another Singaporean athlete, but her progeny as well. I don’t hear ESM Goh Chok Tong coming out to chastise those who pack their bags before even learning how to construct a proper sentence in English as ‘quitters’.

Along with Sun Bei Bei, who also decided to quit table tennis, Jiawei, Li Li and Xueling were all part of the $7 million Project 0812 funding program, which unashamedly declares that its mission was to win medals and national glory for Singapore. The program also involves converting star players into Singaporeans as soon as possible to qualify for international tournaments. If they had arrived as nobodies playing for domestic clubs and left as millionaire Chinese nationals we wouldn’t have bothered, but these girls left their hard-earned fans as Singaporeans and have given critics all the more reason to call them out for treachery, treating the citizenship as a mere feather in their cap and using the Olympic opportunity as a stepping stone to loftier ambitions that have nothing to do with Singapore. But what else can they do if they had chosen to remain after retiring from professional sports? Just look at happened to our original silver medallist Tan Howe Liang. Maybe our ex-National Players were just looking out for their own given the uncertain, limited future of sports professionals here.

I would question why so much effort and money is splurged on nurturing foreign sports talent at the risk of losing them, and whether the pursuit of Olympic success is worth dispensing citizenship like candy from a vending machine. With many Singaporeans giving our China-born sportsmen a less than lukewarm reception, you should expect them to be a little ‘homesick’ given the cold treatment. Maybe we were a bit too hasty in christening our paddlers as our own, or overestimated our reputation as a ‘promised land’ for sporting achievement. With Wang Yuegu also retiring from competitive sport, maybe it’s time to close this obsessive chapter on Singapore table tennis and focus on other talents. Let’s hope Feng Tianwei makes good of her stay, finds a decent Singaporean man for once (instead of a Chinese tycoon) and settle down. Meanwhile I’m still waiting for a sighting of fellow Singaporean Jet Li here. No one I know was particularly excited that we had a Singaporean starring alongside the biggest action stars on the planet in The Expendables 2. I’m sure many of us still think he’s either from Hong Kong or China (Like Jiawei he’s also from Beijing)


One Response

  1. I fully agree with what you have said.

    The PRC’s really are using us Singaporeaans (Singapore) as a stepping stone.

    I have spoken to some personally and it is true.

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