Changing people's perception of Singapore sailors

Changing people's perception of Singapore sailors

The worst look in sport from a rival is not disdain but the look that goes right through you. To be there, in a race, but not seen. To wear a competitor's number yet not be viewed as competition.

This perception by a rival that you are irrelevant is vaguely rude but fiercely intimidating. It is a perception that arrives not because he has proof you are no good. But because he assumes that since you're the wrong height, have the wrong build, and were born in the wrong place, you can't be any good. You, Singaporean, you can sail?

This perception is Colin Cheng's enemy, his extra opponent and his hardest thing. It intrigues and amuses him that his passport colour, his scholarly face - "I can't help that," he grins - and his height ("Haha, 175cm," he mails me) often leads to a reflexive disrespect.

"Sailing is quite physical," he explains, "and - at the senior level - we're physically smaller and not as strong. As a small nation we don't have that respect. They don't put you down, they just don't regard you as a threat."

At World Cups, amid a familiar sea of acronyms - GBR, AUS, DEN, GER - the SIN is a relative stranger. He - a gold and silver medallist at the Asian Games - is so foreign to them that when he recently trained in Belfast, amid a slew of Europeans, a German asked an Australian about this tanned outsider who was sailing quite well: "Who is this Indian?"

Perception is never the whole truth but it becomes a hard truth to fight. Perception has us believing white men can't jump and African-Americans can't swim. Perception breeds insecurity for it makes the sailor ask - am I not worth looking at?

For Cheng, his continent's history is the culprit behind this perception. On land and in unsalted water, Asia no longer sportingly fumbles: We can play football, swim, race cars, hurdle. But in the ocean outdoors, the wind hasn't shifted much. Reciting numbers like a practised statistician, Cheng says Asia won 5 sailing medals of 129 in the past four Olympics; Denmark, with a population of 5.6 million, won six.

The stereotype, Asian, Not Good Enough, is hard to wash off in sea water (though it will one day as world-class junior sailors from Singapore make an equal impact in senior ranks).

More about

Purchase this article for republication.



Your daily good stuff - AsiaOne stories delivered straight to your inbox
By signing up, you agree to our Privacy policy and Terms and Conditions.