On Instagram?

Check out Hype & Stuff's Instagram page

Categories: CultureProfile
| On 2 months ago

One-on-One with 4 S’pore Athletes — Defying Racial Stereotypes In Sports

“We the citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves as one united people regardless of race, language, or religion”, echoes the national promise we recited since we were young.

This unique country is home to various racial groups that transcend all aspects of everyday living—housing, education, even sports. Although there is that little nagging problem where we associate a particular ethnicity to a type of sport. For example, you’ve probably heard statements like how Malays are especially good in soccer; the Chinese are experts in martial arts; while Indians are superb Cricket players.

We can discuss the reasons for these racial associations at length, but nothing trumps reality more than stories from athletes who have defied those very stereotypical racial norms and excelled in their respective choice of sports. In some ways, despite the differences in race, they’ve displayed the same unwavering tenacity, passion, and perseverance we’ve come to expect from a sportsperson—perhaps a more fitting tribute to the national pledge we’ve all come to know.


1. Luke Cheang, Singapore National Cricket Squad from 2002 to 2009

Credit – Luke Cheang

How would you describe your racial identity?

I am Singaporean Chinese—pretty much the racial majority.

How did you get exposed to this sport and what was your fondest memory of it growing up?

When I was 4, my dad was posted to India for work—to manage the building of an IT park. Since it was a long-term project, my family moved there for over a year, and my brother and I were placed in an international school there.

Since computers were not popular back in 1995, we did not have much to do there. Cricket was a popular sport, so we landed up joining our peers to play it during our free time.

When we came back to Singapore, my brother and I joined Cricket as the Co-Curriculum Activity (CCA) at Anglo Chinese School (Junior), and I spent a good ten years playing for school and beyond my formal education.

In terms of memories, it was great growing up with the same group of people and coaches since most of us went to the same school. Besides school and sports, we also spent additional time together during national training.

Credit – Luke Cheang

What was the most unexpected comment you have received about being a racial minority in this sport?

I took the racial minority tag in my stride because I already had the experience of being the minority in India, so being one of the few Chinese in Cricket for those ten years did not matter much. There wasn’t any overtly racist experience or surprising comments during those ten years.

In fact, it was my Chinese classmates who called me “Tofu” because I was the only Chinese player in Cricket. At some point in time, I ended up simply introducing myself as the Chinese cricket player.

Why do you think there aren’t many people of your race participating in this sport?

It is still seen as a South Asian sport that Indians, Sri Lankans, and Pakistanis play. It is also not the most accessible in terms of picking up the game because it requires a lot of time and effort to learn. A proper match takes between 4 and 6 hours—some can even extend to five days. Besides, many South Asian parents exposed their kids to Cricket early. Hence, they tend to have plenty of headstart as compared to a Chinese who may join much later and only at leisure.

How has being a minority affected how you performed in the sport?

There were certainly a lot of people who were surprised when they realised that I played Cricket. I joined an indoor Cricket tournament held by SMU Cricket and though my team didn’t win, it generated quite a bit of chatter amongst the community there.

I’ve also joined the foreign workers who played at the open field at Farrer Park on a Sunday a couple of times. Plenty of eyes were on me, but it’s no big deal really. People tend to be a bit more cautious with me initially, but it all goes back to normal after the game warms up.

Perhaps being a minority has made me more determined to prove that one does not need to be South Asian to play the sport well.


2. Diyanah Aqidah, Singapore Taekwondo Federation

Credit – Singapore Taekwondo Federation

How would you describe your racial identity?

I am Malay, and as Malays, we are bonded as a community and help each other whenever we can.

How did you get exposed to this sport and what was your fondest memory of it growing up?

I was exposed to the sport in Edgefield Secondary School, where everyone learnt Taekwondo during the Physical Education lessons.

Our school participated in a Taekwondo demonstration for SG50, where we did basic kicks and punches along with the music. From the rehearsals to the actual day of the performance, it was a memorable experience for me.

Credit – Instagram

What was the most unexpected comment you have received about being a racial minority in this sport?

Based on my experience, I have not received any comment as a racial minority. As the majority is Chinese, they tend to interact in their mother tongue. However, that being said, I don’t really have any qualms about it.

Why do you think there aren’t many people of your race participating in this sport?

Many people do not know that Taekwondo is traditionally a Korean Martial Art—me included.

With the majority racial group in this sport being Chinese, I feel like there might be a misconception that Taekwondo is a Chinese martial art.

How has being a minority affected how you performed in the sport?

Being a racial minority doesn’t affect me or my goals in the sport. We should adopt an open mind and see sports without any tags of racial preconception. I believe this is how Taekwondo can grow as a sport and more people can be exposed.


3. Lavin Raj, Team Singapore Basketballer

Credit – Instagram

How would you describe your racial identity?

I identify as Indian.

How did you get exposed to this sport and what was your fondest memory of it growing up?

I was first exposed to basketball when I was in primary school. I was one of the taller students, and coincidentally, my form teacher was the teacher-in-charge of the basketball CCA. She approached me and asked if I was keen to join the sport. Back then, I was not interested, so I turned the offer down. Two years later, another teacher approached me, and I thought, why not give it a shot?

I took up basketball as my CCA when I was 9, joined the school team at 10, and never looked back since. After primary school, I went to Anglo Chinese School (Barker), where I played for another four years.

One of my fondest memories in the sport was being selected to be part of the team to participate in the 29th SEA Games 2017 held in the Philippines. That was my first game and also the time I realised that basketball could be a career option for me and I can do what I love.

Credit – Instagram

What was the most unexpected comment you have received about being a racial minority in this sport?

I stand out more than the rest in the Singapore team, and people are generally surprised. Still, I have not gotten any unexpected comments regarding that.

Why do you think there aren’t many people of your race participating in this sport?

I am not exactly sure, but I understand it’s more common for people in my race to be in soccer. However, I have gone to a couple of schools to coach, and there are increasingly more minority races in basketball these days.

How has being a minority affected how you performed in the sport?

It doesn’t affect me. One of the problems I used to have was that my coaches, often native Chinese speakers, communicate more comfortably in Mandarin. However, I managed to learn their mother tongue along the way. Though I cannot respond in the same language, I have no problems understanding them.


4. Adalia Jesse Colin, Singapore Wushu Federation, World Junior Champion

Credit – International Wushu Federation

How would you describe your racial identity?

I am a Eurasian—my mom is Chinese, and my dad is Filipino Portuguese.

How did you get exposed to this sport and what was your fondest memory of it growing up?

My first recollection of this sport was watching the fighting and kungfu movies starring famous martial arts veterans like Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Bruce Lee, to name a few. I watched in awe of people that have the abilities to fly around, do somersaults, and fight.

Coincidentally, when I entered primary school, they offered enrichment courses for all kinds of sport, and I decided to give Wushu a try. The coach saw that I had potential, so she asked me to join the school team. Fifteen years later on, I’m still in the sport.

Credit – Adalia Jesse Colin

What was the most unexpected comment you have received about being a racial minority in this sport?

People called me various names like “Indian” or “blackie”. When I do well in my sport, some would remark that my competence is due to my “Indian powers” (I have no idea what that is supposed to mean), but that sounds a little racist and ignorant because I am not of Indian descent. They are judging me and my skills based on my skin colour—a darker skin tone.

Why do you think there aren’t many people of your race participating in this sport?

Wushu is a Chinese dominated sport. With its strong Chinese roots, many people of other races would be less inclined to join. However, in recent years, Wushu is becoming more popular and well regarded internationally.

However, you would be surprised to know that in some events, the world champions are from the Western and European countries! That’s a significant development, and I am happy this traditional sport has made this progress.

How has being a minority affected how you performed in the sport?

As a minority, I attracted both negative and positive attention. Still, it all served as a good motivation for me to excel. To the naysayers, it fuelled my drive to strive for excellence, it has also built my emotional tolerance and makes me focus on what is important—the sport. For the positive aspects, it opened up doors of opportunities for me. I had the privilege to work with many people on various campaigns. It has also given me the chance to be trained under the best coaches in the country.


Get the latest updates by following us on Twitter @hypeandstuff & Facebook Have an interesting story to share? Email us at hyperstuff@hypeandstuff.com

We're hiring lifestyle writers!

Apply