Lee Bee Wah to step down as S'pore table tennis chief

Lee Bee Wah to step down as S'pore table tennis chief

Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) president Lee Bee Wah began her tenure in sensational fashion when the women's table tennis team won the country's first Olympic medal in 48 years at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Yesterday, her six-year stint at the helm of Singapore's most successful national sports association ended in equally dramatic manner. The Nee Soon GRC MP broke down in tears and had to cut short a press conference as emotions got the better of her as she fielded questions from the media on her eventful - and at times controversial - time as STTA chief.

Ms Lee, 53, had begun the 45-minute conference by announcing that she would be stepping down as the association's president and will not be contesting its top job during its biennial general meeting on Sept 6.

"I want to give my successor ample time to prepare for the 2016 Olympics and beyond, which is why I've decided the time is right to step down," said Ms Lee, who is likely to be replaced by Sembawang GRC MP Ellen Lee.

But as she reminisced about her tenure, which saw the sport win numerous honours, including being the first team in 17 years to beat China to win the 2010 World Team Championships, she lost her composure and wept in front of a packed conference.

It was in direct contrast to her oozing confidence earlier as she spoke about her efforts to grow the sport and introduce more Singapore-born players in the national team, which has been dominated by China-born paddlers.

In fact, she hopes that, by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, a local- born paddler could represent Singapore in the singles events.

"We have seen the integration into the national squads of (Singapore-born paddlers) Isabelle Li and Clarence Chew at last year's SEA Games and this year's Commonwealth Games," she said.

"We are focused on a gradual push, not suddenly forcing them on to impossible targets. Hopefully, this will prove successful when the 2020 Games comes."

She is equally proud that she will leave the STTA in prime financial health, with nearly $10 million raised during her term.

Yet, there have been controversies, such as the public feud between STTA and former head coach Liu Guodong when it did not nominate him for Coach of the Year honours after the 2008 Olympic breakthrough.

In 2012, STTA's decision to make the Singapore Sports School its primary pipeline for talent also raised the ire of parents of players in mainstream schools.

While Ms Lee said that she had always tried to learn from the low points of her tenure, she rubbished the idea that "it is better to lose badly with a team of local- born players than to win anything with foreign talents".

"We can never predict how losing badly will affect a player," she explained. "Some can be so demoralised that they are unable to reach their maximum potential.

"We believe we are doing the right thing with Isabelle and Clarence. It is a long process, but this is the right way to go."

Highs and lows of Lee Bee Wah's tenure as STTA president

HIGHLIGHTS

2008: National women paddlers clinch a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics - the first time in 48 years that any Singaporean athlete has won an Olympic medal.

2009: The STTA-PAP Community Foundation Table Tennis Programme is launched to introduce table tennis to kindergarten-level children. A sum of $1 million is raised in STTA's first fund-raising dinner.

2010: National women's team stun mighty China to win the World Team Championships. Six golds won at the Commonwealth Games.

2012: Two bronzes at the London Olympics from the women's paddlers (team event and Feng Tianwei in the singles). Men's doubles pair Gao Ning/Yang Zi win Singapore's first gold at the Asian Championships since 1954.

LOWLIGHTS

2008: Men's player Gao Ning is left without a sideline coach as he loses in the Beijing Olympics. "Heads will roll," Ms Lee said then, souring the mood amid the national squad despite the women paddlers winning an Olympic silver.

2009: Head coach Liu Guodong is not nominated for Coach of the Year honours, resulting in a public feud between Liu and the STTA.

2011: Top women paddlers Li Jiawei, Feng Tianwei and Wang Yuegu are left out of SEA Games. Feng reinstated after the Singapore National Olympic Council insisted STTA send out a team capable of winning honours.

2012: Move to make the Singapore Sports School the STTA's key pipeline for talent raises the ire of parents of players in mainstream schools.


This article was first published on August 16, 2014.
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