Wednesday, August 11, 2010

YOG WTF: Youth Olympic Games - What The Farce

Oh yeah oh yeah oh yeah! Seriously.

From much maligned talented songwriter JJ Lin to the mainstream media massive masturbatory musings about the games, most of us Singaporeans have now learnt the important lesson of media overexposure and oversaturation. But in the eyes of a government obsessed with lingums, phalli, of course numbers and figures, the more is always the merrier. For example, the more you pay a minister, the better he will do his job and the less corrupt he would be, which means, according to Dogbert from the comic Dilbert, prisoners are not criminals but just underpaid workers.

In the months that led to announcement of Singapore's successful bid for the Youth Olympic Games, you know the one that culminated in lots of screaming teenage girls bobbing up and down, surrounding the Prime Minister and the organising committee (who worked very hard by the way) and engulfing these guys with a legal minor's exuberance... well, in the months that led to this state-perceived success, the organising committee was working their socks off to make Singapore viable, like the senior mamasan in a brothel, dolling up her deceptively young xiao mei meis in the most sexually enticing way, just for the sake of business.

Yes there was sweat and action, but there was also rhetoric. Singapore was also sold to the rest of the world mostly using the rhetoric of (small) size, youth and multiculturalism.

Mind you, rhetoric is always based on the domains of reality. Singapore, for instance, is a small country, an island. And given this geographical reality, an political leadership has to leverage on this fact and milk it for all its economic worth. This is why the minds of our children are invaded by social studies textbooks telling them that human resources are the most important resource the nation needs - in the long run justify influx of foreign talents that suppress wages, ungoverned higher costs of living, and more recently prominent public official's view that we should not retire. Most important, yet most abused.

The rhetoric on size matters to Singapore a lot, politically, economically and YOG-ically. In the process of selling Singapore as a viable location, the media reported Singapore to be a small underdog, always doing our best, industrious, yada yada. We want to be seen as a country who is able to compensate for our small size/land space with a big heart and with pride, which could be deemed as arrogance if in the context of a big country (c.f. USA). Our greatness is all the more magnified when we can promise and also prove that big things can happen in little Singapore (like detention without trial, stifling of freedom of expression, growing discontentment, apathy and antipathy, shiok no?).

The rhetoric of youth is another important factor. Singapore is of course, only a young country 45 years old. This means we can still make mistakes, such as a one-party government joke of a democracy, or the stop-at-2 policy, or according to some demigod, education for women. The emphasis on youth plays an important role in creating the image of Singapore as a nation that wants to learn, which has appeared to justify the government's (selective) benchmarking of policy, infrastructural and social standards with that of other countries, ignoring the specific historical and cultural contexts that define these other countries. The imagination of Singapore as a young country dovetails with the Youth Olympic Games, wanting to find somewhere to begin, grow and evolve into a legitimate event. Moreover, Southeast Asia needs some global attention (for the right reasons) and Singapore would be a desirable location.

The rhetoric of multiculturalism, or diversity, rather, is the probably the greatest strength in making Singapore an attractive location. Although our multiculturalism is defined, confined and shaped by the economic interests of the Singaporean ethnic Chinese elite, and whipped into line by the politically/commercially/economically well-connected conservative Christian middle-to-upper class English-educated ethnic Chinese minority, Singapore appears, on the surface, to the rest of the world, a safe harmonious place of great diversity. The Games has also been associated with the politically correct notion of diversity and international friendship. But seriously, GET REAL! Do away with the medals and rankings if you truly want to foster friendship. Any how, regardless of its detachment and inability to reconcile with the lived daily realities of struggling Singaporeans, the rhetoric of multiculturalism and diversity plays well into Singapore's hands in the international community.

Any way, these are the rhetoric used at the level of politics to convince Singaporeans that all is fine. The fact that we are young, small and diverse affords the ruling party to do as they please and impose laws and their respective interpretations for the benefit of preserving, improving and developing what the party believes constitutes a successful young, small and diverse country.

The Youth Olympic Games is a farce. The media has been in overdrive, working to raise the profile of the event. Even the Prime Minister has encouraged Singaporeans to support the Games.

This is where I find all this hype entirely hypocritical.

1) If all the hype can be evenly distributed throughout the year, and used to cover local young athletes and give them the support the deserve, it would be better. If it weren't for Singapore winning the bid to host the Youth Olympic Games, there will be many young Singaporean athletes who would remain largely anonymous. Our young athletes need public recognition, support and sponsorship. Some of our athletes is "lesser priority" sports have to fund part of or their entire expenses just to compete. But it seems that their profiles are only raised for the sake of rallying public interest in the Games. They deserve better.

2) I have read and heard of Singaporean students being "volunteered" to help out in the games, perhaps to be calibrated to appear as supporters, among other unpaid roles, of the Games. This is outright disingenuous and manipulative. In the end, they are rewarded with extra/co-curricular activity-related points, necessary for graduation and/or application for the next higher level of study. If these accounts are true, it would be a great farce that the Youth Olympic Games are fueled on the exploitation of Singaporean school-going teenagers. As with the military, the order has probably been passed down from the higher-ups, and students become the footsoldiers to sustain the pride of the nation. This is very much similar to the time when I was serving my national service, and the chief clerk asked me to gather donations for some charity. Donations are voluntary. But she had the nerve to say that, "Look at you. Your family is sure rich one." just because I looked a little pan-Asian. "FUCK YOU, how dare you say that? My dad drives a taxi and my mum doesn't work. We live in a HDB flat!" You see, the matter is not about chief clerks being insensitive, but they are also being pressured by their higher-ups to make the unit look good, and in the end, make SAF look good and generous. We blur the lines of order/instruction and volunteerism/choice. The Singaporean concept of "volunteer" is an insidious concept when it comes to anything related to the state. Little does the government know that its policies and treatment of Singaporeans has created a scenario in which Singaporeans tend to overrationalise when it comes to volunteerism and would require incentives to balance it out. Social engineering FAIL.

3) The budget for the Games has ballooned more than threefold, according to reports. This is not justifiable. Where is the money coming from? Yes, we can see this as an "investment" to lure more people into Singapore and spend and keep the economy going. Instead of looking to spin the economic wheel and maintain its acceleration, why not direct those resources to helping the poorer and needy Singaporeans. Help those who are fighting illness and diseases, fighting to feed their families, fighting for shelter and dignity. To use a metaphor, Singapore is like a young arrogant man taking his money, going out to gamble (knowing he'll win) and also looking for random mistresses to give him nightly blowjobs (then they'll tell their other friends that Singapore is such a clean efficient fucking machine), while leaving his family at home and not caring for them. The budget would be much bigger if weren't for sponsors (who might get tax breaks) and the alleged unpaid work of student "volunteers". What a farce.

4) We want to support young athletes, yet we have National Service that robs our young male athletes 2 crucial years of their lives. Athletes have to train the entire day, and even that is no guarantee for success. I don't think I need to say more about the stunting and destruction of careers and dreams by National Service. So I guess the government should just keep it real by saying "Support our young female athletes!" They are in serious need of some honesty.

There will never be true volunteers in an oppressive system that creates and uses oppressive mechanisms to maximise the utility of human resource for its gains. To be fair, I cannot speak for those who truly want to be part of the YOG, as a volunteer, because they might enjoy meeting people and being part of some team. I just hope these individuals are treated well and rewarded accordingly. At the same time, I hope those who do not want to be part of this, are not penalised or disincentivised. Singaporeans are not dogs, but sometimes we are treated as if our lives can be shaped by carrots and sticks, or in some contexts sticks and no-sticks. The punishment is the stick; the reward is exemption from the stick. Fucked up rationality, indeed.

I believe Singaporeans should support their local athletes, but this should not be exploited to raise the profile of the Games and Singapore's ability to host it. We support our athletes because they spend a large part of their lives training, and most of them have a slim chance of success, but they still carry on. That is the kind of determination that is inspirational to us all.

Perhaps the government's idea of having the YOG is to develop Singapore as a serious sports hub. Good idea, but it will fall flat on its face so long as our infrastructure, sports leadership and government attitude towards sports are appalling and disingenuous as they are. So what if you have a football or tennis academy for our young, to develop world class athletes, if there exist little consistent media coverage, insufficient sponsorship/funding, lack of local support, continually strong emphasis on formal education and paper qualifications, and of course the grand-murderer-of-youth National Service? Moreover there are other policies that affect family structures, like couples marrying late, having babies later and fewer, and straining to support them and their sporting dreams because of economic realities. Seems "irrational" to them, and no lower-to-middle class Singaporean likes to be economically irrational and commit financial suicide by telling their kids to forgo education and train full time as an athlete. Are we ready to make full use of our raised sporting profile, or are we just going to leave it as an empty shell because of pre-existing constraints that limit/destroy the dreams and development of our young athletes?

Sometimes, I wonder what Singaporean youth athletes truly feel, and whether their true feelings are actually conveyed to the public and government. I also think about their families and how much they have to sacrifice to help them.

The government always encourages enterprise and individuality, but places limits and expectations, such as economic viability and the extent to which the nation is done proud. Your freedom to pursue your dreams is constrained by the realities of policy and law, and so will your dreams. Perhaps this is the destiny of the politically and economically-disempowered Singaporean. Just follow the protocol and the path drawn out for you.

Although they are intertwined, I wish our athletes success, not the Youth Olympic Games.


Ash said...

While I agree that the government's YOG attempt is somewhat embarrassing, but I'd like to believe it is ultimately a product of good intentions. I highly doubt there is an insidious agenda by the government to portray a pseudo-Singaporean sports culture in hopes of achieving.. whatever.

On a side note, I think that while it is good to have our country diversify its attention to sports or the arts, I feel that it is not a wise move. As we stand in the current world economy, our position is precarious. A good arts and sports culture would no doubt make our country more diverse and pretty, but this is a good-to-have, rather than something we can afford right now. No matter how much infrastructure or investment we have into the arts or sports scene, we simply do not have the population size to match up on an international level. We will not be able to support a system that allows sports as a long-term career, or have the kind of schools where children train from the age of 6 to be international-standard gymnasts.

The practical side of the matter is that we cannot afford it; the idealistic side is that we should at least try.

Back to what I had meant to say– the problem with any government is bureaucracy and incompetence. The civil service naturally attracts people who want job stability and are incapable of competing in the private sector. You'll see this evident in the Army. It is my personal belief that it is this that cripples many of our government initiatives, whether in the form of advertising campaigns, or.. oh yeah oh yeah oh yeah.

If there is anything to fault, it is not hypocrisy and malice, but unfortunate incompetence. Ultimately, I do agree that the money could be better spent else where.

FangJie said...

you wanted to know how youth athletes feel, so here goes:

I was a national athlete (but i'm not gonna say which sport) and I left the national team when I had to enlist. The main reason that I left was that I knew I wouldn't be able to compete with the younger ones from the youth team who will be training everyday to take my spot in the main elite team. i thought it would be rather humiliating for my junior to usurp my place in the main team as i start to depreciate in terms of skills so i left to save myself from that situation.

the government did give me a choice to continue training and serve our nation simultaneously. there's a scheme whereby male athletes can opt to enlist into the police force or the civil defence force and will be given time to train. however the terms and conditions were not appealing and i feel wouldn't be much of help for a semi-pro athlete like me. thus i decided to enlist the normal way (i ended up in tekong) and save myself the trouble.

now, still serving the nation (3 more months!!!), and after reading your piece, i thought about what it could have been if I didnt have to enlist. it was my dream, and my source of drive to live life passionately. i guess now i would have to find another one.

Sam Ho said...

i think size doesn't matter. "small country, small population" is one of those narratives given to show that it is not (economically) feasible to have world-class athletes, hence continually justifying a disproportionally lesser resource allocation to developing out talents and keeping the status quo.

these are the narratives that make us believe, and perpetuate the belief that every dream in singapore has to be framed and weighed for its economic worth and viability. then what's the point of dreaming?

fangjie, i feel for you. but i'm sure with a sports training, you'll have the discipline and character to pursue other things and achieve something.

Aurvandil said...

The following is a very good music video on the WASTE of YOG.

Ponder Stibbons said...

New Zealand's population is similar to Singapore's and they are no pushovers in sports.

"Small size" is used by the government to justify anything they don't want to do.

Having a thriving arts scene is no longer a luxury when you are looking to attract and keep "talent". The sterility of Singapore is a major reason why many Singaporeans prefer living overseas. It's also a stumbling block when it comes to persuading "foreign talent" used to living in artistically vibrant cities to relocate here.

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