SINGAPOREANS should stop acting like crybabies.
That is Jurong Junior College (JJC) badminton coach Haden Hee's return shot to detractors of his school's foreigner-dominated badminton squad.
'We Singaporeans should buck up and not resent foreign players,' he added.
Mr Hee, 28, was responding to criticism after last week's National Inter-School 'A' Division badminton finals at Jurong East Sports Hall.
Both the JJC boys' and girls' teams lost 1-3 to Raffles Institution (Junior College) but were criticised for having too many foreign players.
All seven JJC girls are from China. Of the seven boys, four are from China and one from South Korea. Only two are locals.
The foreigners had enrolled in JJC through its International Talent Management Scheme (ITMS).
Under the scheme, meant only for foreigners, applicants must sit for an entrance test to determine if they will be able to handle the A levels.
JJC also considers their previous school results before admitting them.
Students with special talents - say in sports - can also apply, but The New Paper understands that athletes must perform as well as non-athletes in the entrance test to gain admission.
Mr Hee stressed that JJC's foreign players are not just adept in sports.
'Our players come from the top academic schools in China. They aren't here just to play badminton. They have to sit for their A levels like other JC students.
'They are in the finals because they train hard.'
For this year's competition, the team trained five days a week, at least three hours each time.
Last year, the foreign players trained even harder than the local players - up to seven days a week. Apart from training with Mr Hee, they had additional training sessions with a coach from China.
Said Mr Hee: 'If we want to buy success, we can easily get top China players from their sports schools and win every tournament.
'We wouldn't have to train every day.'
Most of the foreign players said they didn't train as intensively back home. Jiang Hong Bo, 18, said that, back in China, he used to train only three times a week.
The workload at the prestigious Shishi School in Chengdu, Sichuan, where he used to study, was too heavy to train more than that.
Said Hong Bo in Mandarin: 'The academic pressure isn't as intense here. Back in China, I was competing with 700 to 800 other students, who were all very bright and outstanding.'
At JJC, atheletes - both local and foreign - are given extra help closer to the competition.
Said Hong Bo: 'The school helps us out by making up on lessons when we miss them.
'But our social life suffers. Closer to the competition, I hardly had time to go out.'
Despite their heavy training schedule, the foreign players still did well in their studies.
Miss Qian Siya, 20, who graduated from JJC last year, didn't just win every badminton match she played, but also received a sub-pass for her General Paper and As for her three H2 subjects, Chinese language and literature, chemistry and mathematics.
But why go for foreign talent in the first place?
'We need them to field a competitive team,' said Mr Hee. 'Neighbourhood JCs like us find it hard attracting good local players.'
Referring to calls to limit the number of foreigners on a team, he said: 'What about players who enter schools through the Direct School Admission (DSA) exercise?
'Shouldn't there be a cap on how many top local players each school can get?'
RI(JC)'s badminton coach, Mr Hamid Khan, 44, argued that he was granted only 'two or three' DSA slots each in the boys' and girls' teams.
Said Mr Khan, a former national champion: 'We should limit the number of foreign players per school. We should distribute them across schools, so that everyone will get a chance to train with them.
'That way, Singapore badminton can improve.'
JJC is not the only school that has drawn flak for fielding foreign players.
Other schools known for their foreign players include Monfort Secondary in badminton, and Anglican High and St Gabriel's Secondary in table tennis.
'We've been talking about the issue for years,' said Mr Khan. 'Isn't bringing in foreign talent just to win the title a short-cut?'
The schools argue that foreign players can improve the standard of the locals.
Monfort Secondary principal Andrew Tan said that more than half of its badminton squad are local students, who have improved from training with foreign players.
Anglican High principal Zoe Boon agreed that foreign players can help locals improve.
St Gabriel's Secondary principal Marcel Lee said his school had not gone out of its way to scout foreign table tennis players.
'We didn't have to find them - they came knocking on our door,' said Mr Lee. 'We didn't even offer them any scholarship when they enrolled.'
Five out of seven members of its team that beat St Joseph's Institution in this year's 'C' Division table tennis finals are from China.
Observers like Mr Ralph Roche, 35, Head of Department for physical education and CCA at Teck Whye Secondary School, said the use of foreign talent is not necessarily a bad thing.
'It's understandable,' he said. 'When you are trying to compete with the best, you need all the help you can get.
'I'd only have an issue if these students are imported just to play sports and not to study. And I'd tell our local players to step up their game, to stop complaining and train harder.'
Han Yongming, newsroom intern
This article was first published in The New Paper.