According to media reports, MP Ellen Lee of Sembawang GRC admitted to being apprehensive when approached by current chief MP Lee Bee Wah earlier this year to take over the helm of the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA).

Yesterday (25 Aug), Er Dr Lee Bee Wah unveiled her preferred successors, MP Ellen Lee and MP Alex Yam; Ellen Lee for President and Alex Yam for Deputy President of STTA.

Both will stand for election at the association’s biennial general meeting on 6 September 2014.

MP Ellen Lee said, “It came as a surprise as I don’t play table tennis and I’m very bad at raising funds.”

“But I felt that if there is a need for my services for this sport, then I should rise to the occasion and see what I can do. Over the last few months I have observed meetings and interacted with the management committee and staff. We have a very good team and system in place,” she added.

It is not known why Er Dr Lee Bee Wah is nominating someone who knows nothing about table tennis to be her successor. It is also not known why STTA has to be helmed by PAP MPs, starting from ex-PAP MP Choo Wee Khiang in the late 80s.

This will be the first time Ellen Lee is helming a national sports association.

She pledged to keep Er Dr Lee Bee Wah’s “good work” going. “Her shoes are too large to fill … but the good thing is she will stay on as adviser and I know that she will not hesitate to help,” Ellen Lee said.

Under Lee Bee Wah, Singapore was able to win an Olympic silver for the women’s table tennis team event. The team was loaded with PRC-born players.

“Since the beginning of the year, Ellen and Alex have come in to help me and I have given them some assignments,” said Er Dr Lee. “They have indicated that they are ready to help the STTA. Table tennis is a sport that every Singaporean is watching closely and it is a sport that is expected to produce results and we have to constantly work very hard.”

Singapore to continue to use “foreign talent” to represent Singapore

On the issue of reliance on foreign talent for major sporting events, Ms Ellen Lee said, “We shouldn’t doubt our foreign talent because they have brought glory to Singapore and along the way, they have motivated other Singaporeans to rise to the occasion. It’s controversial, but people deep down in their hearts know that we will need at least 20 years or more to groom somebody into a talent.”

Ellen Lee told the media that she wanted to help the PRC-born players integrate into Singapore society.

The PRC-born table tennis national players have yet to endear themselves to the Singapore public. Many Singaporeans have cited their inability to speak English as a reason they are difficult to relate to.

Ellen Lee said, “If this makes Singaporeans more receptive (to) them, and helps reduce the negativity, then it is possible. The thing is they spend most of their time training. For a start, I would like to organise more gatherings and interactions with supporters.”

However, Ellen Lee said she will continue to use “foreign talents”. She said, “For anyone to do well in anything, competition is necessary. We need to have the foreign talents to provide that competition… and motivate Singaporeans to rise to the occasion. The new group of (local) players we have are a good example of that.”

“Another obstacle in grooming local paddlers is that few parents support a sporting career ahead of academic success,” she argued.

The use of many PRC-born players in Singapore’s national team has attracted criticism both domestically as well as internationally.

At the recent Commonwealth Games, 8 times Australian National Champion and Commonwealth Games Men’s Singles silver medalist (2006), William Henzell, hit out at the Singapore table tennis team, claiming they tarnish the spirit of the Commonwealth Games by “stacking their squad with Chinese players” (‘Aussie table tennis champ slams SG for ‘buying’ team‘).

Henzell accused Singapore of bringing a “professional team” to Glasgow that was largely made up of PRC-born players.

“I don’t think what Singapore does is in the spirit of the Games,” Henzell said. “It’s disappointing to see.”

Henzell said that Singapore only had two “token” Singaporeans in their team – Clarence Chew and Isabelle Li – while the rest all hailed from China.

“They decided it was much easier and quicker to buy a team rather than produce a team,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Singaporean table tennis team declined to comment.

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