Schooling And The Price of Success

Singapore just bit into Olympic gold, and boy does it taste sweet. Joseph Schooling’s homebound plane was welcomed with a water gun salute, the golden boy was cheered by hundreds at the airport, and he received a monetary award to the astonishing tune of S$1 million dollars.

However some of the strings attached to his S$1 million award from Multi-Million Dollar Award Programme (MAP) award raise the awkward paradox that we may be penalising our athletes. After all, despite his win, he will have to give a cool 20% to the Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) to finance “future training and development”, while the remaining prize money (S$800,000) will be taxed by IRAS.

Weighed against the estimated S$1.35 million spent by his family for his athletic training in the US (he had to fly off because the local Centre for Excellence where he used to train closed), the seemingly huge cash award of S$750,000 he received in Rio doesn’t exactly cover the costs.

Most Olympians are faced with a slim chance of actually tasting gold as their national anthem plays, (somewhere between being struck by lightning and winning the lottery), and that’s what makes the gamble the Schoolings took, investing $1million + in the effort all the more amazing.

Still, on the plus side, a gold for Singapore does mean a larger cash award than anywhere else in the world. The United States leads the global pack in sheer number of Olympic medals, but pays its winning athletes a paltry US$25,000 (S$33,600); the powerhouse called China offers about 207,000 yuan (S$42,000) to its champions, while Great Britain has them all beat – paying its athletes bugger all for bringing back golden glory.

Aside from a hefty Olympics cash prize, Joseph’s costly training was partially off-set when he netted prize money in the run-up to Rio – around S$31,000 at the 2015 SEA games, and S$370,000 at the 2014 Asian and Commonwealth Games (before mandatory contributions and taxes, of course). Coupled with national fame, special recognition earlier today in Parliament, and a shot at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, monetary opportunities should hopefully seek him out.

Even as things look rosy, consider this: if a mere second can separate an athlete from a much-needed cash prize and a million dollars down the drain, Singaporeans who are proud of Joseph’s achievement should be deeply grateful to the Schooling family for daring to invest in their son’s – and by extension Singapore’s – Olympic dream. In the process, the family sacrificed more than money – in order to train Joseph in the US, the family are in 2 different countries most of the year, spending no more than 3 weeks together at a time.

In the meantime, neither Joseph nor his father Colin seem to be dwelling on past fortunes spent. Joseph, because he beat his idol, and Colin because of his pride in his son.

Feature Image belongs to Sports the library

By Vincent Tan