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[Sg] - Former ST journalist Chua Siang Yee's observations on the Ting Wen-Ching Hwee saga


Alfrescian (InfP)
Generous Asset


Chua Siang Yee

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And so, the curtains fall (for now) on Round 2 of Ting Wen-Ching Hwee saga. The news may not interest people who don’t follow swimming/aquatic sport, but it is nonetheless a helpful exercise in both public discourse and the Olympic spirit. Just a few points as an interested observer:
First, in a time of heavily caveated rules and shorter attention spans, the media has an ever-important role in cutting through the noise and sharing the key facts. Lost in the reporting and ‘sexy’ quotes were a few key details (and for clarity I use the old description of Olympic A and B cut times):
• One, it is not correct to say the relay team had qualified for the Olympics. The rules state (very unclearly, admittedly) that there are two requirements: (a) a top-13 timing at the World Championships; and (b) at least two of the four relay swimmers must have made at least an Olympic B cut timing. Only one member of the relay team (Letitia Sim) achieved at least a B cut. This means the relay team’s place in Paris was never confirmed. This wasn’t always clear in the reporting, and certainly not in the initial coverage when the relay team broke the national record in February this year.
• Two, the saga started on 4 July, when world swimming body World Aquatics (WA) informed Singapore Aquatics (SAQ) that they will grant SAQ special dispensation to enter the relay team i.e. waive requirement (b) above (the Relay Dispensation). SAQ were given a short time to accept the Relay Dispensation, which they of course did. A bird in hand is better than two in the bush. One day later, WA suddenly offered SAQ a B cut entry, but conditioned it on Singapore giving up the Relay Dispensation. This is very unprofessional from WA, and I was surprised no one pushed them for a comment, or check if other national swimming associations faced the same issue (although I may have missed this). Could SAQ have anticipated this? Maybe. But hindsight is 20/20. Perhaps it could have been clearer when it communicated its offer to Ting Wen, but I’m not sure this is indicative of a wider policy issue.
Second, once we establish that both Ching Hwee and the relay team had achieved only discretionary benchmarks in their respective events, what becomes clear is that there is no easy answer. Both the relay team and Ching Hwee swam their hearts out in the last few years. Both unfortunately could not hit the mandatory requirements. It is therefore wrong to say this is about merit. On merit, neither did enough to qualify outright for the Olympics. However, reading the comments online, as well as the quotes from interested parties, it is not clear if this is widely understood. On this front, the reporting could be clearer (and more balanced). If there is a misstatement, we should push for a correct answer. We don’t always have to carry every quote, especially if only one side is speaking (more on that anon). I also don’t know why I say “we” when I have left the newsroom for more than seven years.
Third, lost among all this is (sadly) the spirit of the Games. The Olympic website states: The three values of olympism are excellence, respect and friendship. None of these came through in this episode. The WA were far from excellent in their organisation, and there was nothing respectful or friendly from the fallout. While it was fine if those involved wanted to speak initially, after awhile it just became repetitive and spiteful, which is a bit hypocritical considering no one had qualified outright. Part of me also wished Ting Wen, as the senior swimmer with over a decade of experience under her belt, and who Ching Hwee might have looked up to when she was learning to swim, could have offered a few words of encouragement to the younger swimmer in all the interviews she has given (I think there was finally a nod to Ching Hwee in her piece with CNA on 9 July).
The media also has a duty in this regard. While an outburst will get more clicks, query if this is necessarily helpful for the public discourse, and if a reasoned analysis of the facts might be more meaningful. The duty of the media is to help share the truth and inform the public, and not to serve as a platform for willing speakers. In my view, this duty is even more important in a situation where one side prefers to maintain (quite rightly, in my view) a dignified silence. There will always be people happy to share their thoughts, but is it fair for them to dominate the news, especially if it might unfairly colour and cloud public opinion? It’s also a helpful lesson for us, as the public, to not take everything as is, particularly if the reporting is a bit one-sided, and to do a bit of digging, especially if it is a topic that interests us (and I have all the time in the world for swimming although granted the document is a pain to read). These are helpful questions to consider, ahead of an upcoming election by a first-term Prime Minister.
In any event, all the best to Ching Hwee and Ting Wen in their careers, and I hope the fallout will not fracture relations in both the relay team and the wider national swimming squad. There are still races to be swum. The situation is not ideal, but part of being an elite athlete is dealing with setbacks. Go get them.



Alfrescian (Inf)
The media also has a duty in this regard. While an outburst will get more clicks, query if this is necessarily helpful for the public discourse, and if a reasoned analysis of the facts might be more meaningful.

Spoken like a true SPH (former?) doggy. The 'media' is the Party's mouthpiece. 'Reasoned analysis' is off the menu.


Storm in a teacup, when you really can see that they can never win a medal.

Why send them when there is zero chance of winning anything?

Why waste taxpayers money when there are people in dire need?