Stalemate leaves teens in limbo

Stalemate leaves teens in limbo
Singapore paddler Yin Jing Yuan competing in the 2014 Road to Nanjing Europe series in Metz, where he reached the semi-finals.

He is Singapore's top-ranked junior paddler, but 2014 Youth Olympian Yin Jing Yuan could be forced to bid adieu to table tennis even before he makes a run for a berth in the senior team.

The 17-year-old, No. 23 in the world junior rankings, was invited by the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) last month to join its Intermediate Squad, started to develop top youth talent, but has been unable to agree on a training schedule with the association.

In the invitation, also extended to national youth team player Lucas Tan, 15, the STTA stipulated that players are required to attend all training sessions with the senior team, including the 2½ hour sessions every weekday morning.

But having taken leave of absence since the first half of 2013 in preparation for last year's Youth Olympic Games (YOG), Jing Yuan and Lucas, Year 5 and Year 3 students respectively at Raffles Institution, are now due back in school.

The Straits Times understands that their appeal for an alternative arrangement - extending training hours during the afternoon and Saturday sessions - has been rejected. The STTA responded that doing so would be unfair to the other players and coaches.

The STTA was to have handed athlete agreements to the players by today. If the players declined the invitation, they would likely remain in the youth team - a squad for which the STTA decided to stop new intakes since September 2013.

The STTA has long preferred players to take the Singapore Sports School (SSP)'s School Within A School (SWS) route. The customised scheme allows players to train longer during the day with schoolwork at night.

STTA leaders previously said that the high attrition rate due to academic pursuits had meant it needed to change tack in the way its finite resources were used to groom local talent.

In response to queries, STTA president Ellen Lee noted that four others players in the SWS scheme - three attend Republic Polytechnic while one is in the SSP - were also invited to join the Intermediate Squad.

All will need to make adjustments to their academic commitments in order to be part of the team, she said.

"The STTA has limited coaching and training resources and facilities, and hence we are unable to accommodate Lucas and Jing Yuan's request for training in the later part of the evening," said Lee, who is also MP for Sembawang GRC.

The parents of Jing Yuan and Lucas have penned a second appeal to the STTA, as well as to authorities at the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, the Singapore National Olympic Council and Sport Singapore.

Said Jing Yuan's mother, Zhang Hong: "We are fully behind Jing Yuan because we see the desire he has to play. But without STTA's support, there is nothing much we can do other than accept the decisions that are made, and feel helpless about them."

Jing Yuan is one of the brightest local table tennis prospects in years. He won the junior title at the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) French Junior and Cadet Open last year, and clinched a bronze at the ITTF Global Junior Circuit Finals this month. It was Singapore's best result in the prestigious tournament's boys' singles event.

Lucas, the world No. 128 junior, won the South-east Asia Junior Championships Under-15 title and was also a member of Team Asia that won the overall title at the ITTF World Cadet Challenge last year.

The SWS' Edric Lim is No. 124 on the junior standings while the other players on the scheme are currently ranked from No. 129 to No. 180.

Said Lucas' mother Serene Seah: "This may send the wrong message to other parents that even if players are willing to commit and go professional, the association is not flexible to accommodate them.

"Here you have parents and players willing to make the leap to pursue sports professionally, but it is ultimately up to the federation (to decide) how it nutures its talents. Jing Yuan and Lucas will respect what the STTA chooses to do."

But STTA's Lee promised to strive for a solution. She said: "The STTA values all our talents. Based on current constraints, the STTA will continue to work out a solution with our local talents so that they can succeed academically and train at the highest level."

This article was first published on February 16, 2015.
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