By Suresh Nair

THERE’S a tsunami over the “speak-or-not-to-speak” row in Rio de Janiero on young Singapore swimmer Quah Zheng Wen (above) after he reportedly shunned Singapore’s print media at the Olympics.

Unreservedly, The New Paper Associate Editor Leonard Thomas voiced his frustration in Zheng Wen’s snub in two controversial commentaries: Flourish or fail, Zheng Wen must face reality and Speak up, Zheng Wen.

The New Paper (TNP) equated the 19-year-old’s poor performance with poor character. And it is not because of what Zheng Wen had done on or off the pitch related to the sports, but because the swimmer refused to grant the tabloid newspaper an interview. (Link: http://bit.ly/2bhZ9WH)

Social media instantly erupted like a volcano in support of Zheng Wen after his below-par performance in the men’s 100m backstroke heats on Monday and failing to get into the 200m fly semis the next day. And Leonard Thomas got the brunt of the knockout blows, too, for his insensitivity.

I remember a four-liner to Channel NewsAsia Zheng Wen gave after his 200m fly semis: “It could have been better. I don’t know, man. I was just kind of tired. I have to talk to Sergio (Lopez) and break down my swims.”

As much as I’m sensitive to my journalist colleague Leonard Thomas, I sympathise likewise with Zheng Wen. But in sportsmanship, and being Singaporean, we must be tolerant with our overseas flag-bearers, be it in victory or defeat.


The sportsmen, in my opinion as a journalist with over three decades of experience, are not obliged to immediately meet the media, if one considers their mental stress after the event, or the post-race physical pains and injuries. If they request for a little “time off”, the print and broadcast media must amicably accept the delay and not whack them like grounded flies.

This is sport. This is not politics. This is not a game of cards. This is not “masak masak”. At global level, for a little red dot of an island, success is never guaranteed and as much as Singapore fans have a right to know what went well or wrong in their performances, we must first seriously consider the mental and/or physical plights of the Made-in-Singapore flag-bearers.

Mind you, they crossed the other side of the globe to Brazil, on merit and meeting the high Olympics qualifying standards and definitely to give their best shots. No one wants to be an unnecessary flop considering the time and money that’s been invested to help them compete at the highest Olympian level.

There are many away-from-home factors against them, from unfriendly weather, differential food, differing time lapses, whatever, and we must be patient with these younger breed of athletes, who come Tokyo 2020, can do even better and offer a better shot at medals.


As a coach and referee instructor, I always advocate the 3 C’s: Competence, Control, and Connectedness: If you can remember these three concepts and understand how to use them, you are ahead of the game when it comes to motivation. By enhancing one or more of the 3 C’s, research has shown this enhances intrinsic motivation.

Motivation, in my opinion, is defined as the direction and intensity of effort, which means that it’s not just how much effort someone is putting in, but also what are they putting that effort toward. The athletes may show up to practice, which suggests they’re motivated, but if they lack focus and effort when they get there, then they may not be as motivated as you thought. And never ever harass them for an instant post-event response as much as you never want your parent/s to instantly bark at you if you do poorly at examinations.

Writers behind their computers and fans along the sidelines must realise that motivation is a key element of getting positive results in the sports arena. And I’m not just talking about winning!

It’s the supportive quality, by pens or banners, that will propel athletes to keep giving it their all as long as there’s time on the clock, to bounce back after failures or setbacks, and to do everything they possibly can to perform to their full potential.

As a veteran sports journalist, I believe we can do a lot to help our young athletes develop winning motivation, to punch above their weights and to give their best shots at the global stage.

For God’s sake, bad performances don’t mean bad people. Let our athletes like Zheng Wen know that we are even more there for them when they have a bad performance than when they have a good one.

Nothing good comes from negativity. It’s a real demotivator. Consistently getting down on your athletes will not make them feel good about themselves or you. Be positive, no matter what, and you’ll be a successful motivator.

To Singapore fans and journalists, let me say, sportingly: Don’t be a fair weather supporter to your home-grown athletes!

  • Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist who, over more than three decades, has covered umpteen international sporting events for the major Singapore print media.
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