A friend messaged me last night asking: “Did you read that shit article by Leonard Thomas about Quah Zheng Wen?”
“Yes. And I don’t think it’s shit,” I replied.
“Dude, the guy is 19. He had a bad showing,” retorted the friend.
I understand why my friend would feel this way. He is no journalist. He doesn’t know how things work.
I understand how the most obvious person to sympathise with in this scenario is the seemingly downcast athlete who just had a bad day in the pool, instead of the seemingly self-entitled journalist who demanded an interview.
But you see, that’s not how things work. It’s also not an accurate representation of the situation.
By the way, for the record, I used to work for Leonard.
The guy knows his stuff. He’s been around for aeons. He’s not a noob. And he is nothing like what people are painting him to be.
Because I know him. Because like any self-respecting journalist, I try to know two sides of the fucking story.
If you care to hear the other side of things, here it is.
I’m just going to be blunt — athletes are OBLIGED to speak to the media in the Mixed Zone, the place they enter right after completing their sporting events, and where journalists are gathered.
Yes, Leonard and Quah were in this particular zone.
If Leonard had been lurking outside Quah’s shower area with a tape recorder in hand, sure, the swimmer could very well turn down the interview. And perhaps even throw in a right hook for good measure.
If Leonard was loitering outside the athletes’ village or other inappropriate venues, waiting to pounce on Quah, he cannot possibly expect to be granted an interview either.
But there he was, in an official zone dedicated to media engagement. Like all the other journalists who were just there, Leonard just wanted to do his job.
We journalists don’t expect athletes at the Mixed Zone to give us fantastic quotes. We don’t ask for athletes to smile and act friendly. We don’t expect them to tell us their entire life story.
We just need a few minutes of their time. Really. Five minutes is a steal. Three minutes is good. Two minutes is okay.
We’re just there to do our job, which is to report the facts.
Hence, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that professional athletes do theirs as well, and this means talking to the media who have traveled all the way from Singapore to cover them.
I read some comments about how these events are like free holidays for journalists. They think it’s fun but it’s actually bloody exhausting.
I’ve been to the World Cup in South Africa. I’ve been to the Asian Games in Incheon. While it’s exciting to be in the midst of all the action, we are there to work.
Traveling to a destination often takes up quite a bit of time in major cities. Journalists are often rushing from one destination to the other, struggling to type their stories or file their photos on wonky laptops in a media shuttle bus.
We have daily deadlines to meet. We have writer’s blocks to jump over. We have sleep deprivation. We have mild caffeine poisoning. We have an editor on the other line who is constantly yelling, “WHERE THE FUCK IS YOUR FUCKING STORY?”
We don’t travel all the way to a sporting venue to camp at the Mixed Zone just to say shit to athletes. OUR athletes.
Hell, the fact we are even there to cover them in action shows our support.
I don’t know why the media liaison person did not intervene and get Quah to talk to the print media for at least 60 seconds. Maybe this person was not around. Maybe Quah was indeed trying to shun the print media. Maybe Quah was not provided with media training and simply didn’t know he had to hang around. Maybe Quah was just sian and wanted to get some rest as soon as possible.
This doesn’t change the fact that he is obliged to speak to the media.
This does not just apply to the Olympics. Professionals athletes in all sorts of sports around the world also have an obligation to do so. Yes, it is part of their job scope. This is what they signed up for.
I’m going to say it again: this is their JOB.
Look, would you saunter into the office on a weekday, three hours late, simply because you had too much to drink the night before?
No. Because there’s a code of professional conduct to adhere to.
But of course, most people who aren’t sports journalists or who have never covered a major sporting event will never know this. Just like how I don’t know how people at The Independent or Mothership can sleep soundly at night knowing that they’re constantly producing banal content on a sorry excuse of an “alternative news source”.
I wasn’t surprised that these two sites decided to stir shit. I reckon that’s the best they can do. After all, it’s not like they could send journalists to the Olympics.
Because they have no journalists.
What surprised me is that even Mr. Brown jumped on the bandwagon. Naturally, this meant the issue blew up on the Internet. You know, because he’s a Key Opinion Leader.
If you think jumping on the bandwagon to flame Leonard equates to support for a national athlete, and hence patriotism, you need help.
You have myopia. A very serious case of it.
Saying that Quah doesn’t owe the media anything (in the context of the mixed zone) simply because he’s a national athlete who has “given his all for the country” is like saying our ministers should not be paying tax and should be immune to any form of persecution because they are responsible for the stability of the nation.
Fine logic you have there. Our forefathers would be so proud.
Now you know the circumstances of this incident. Still, it’s okay to think that Leonard or all journalists should leave athletes alone. Because you are entitled to your opinions. We can have a civil discussion about whether athletes need to be protected from the media and the measures that can be taken.
But when you assassinate this journalist’s character, call him names, plaster his mugshot all over social media and insult all sports journalists in general, you are crossing the fucking line.
It’s funny how this incident is taking place during the week of Singapore’s birthday. I won’t be surprised if those insulting Leonard are the same people who have been declaring their undying love for Singapore on their Facebook pages.
These are people who think they are being all patriotic by jumping to the defence of a national athlete, the apparent embodiment of a nation’s values and grit.
But they are not.
They are simply blind mules in a very large herd of blind mules.
Heading toward the edge of a cliff.
These are the people who one moment cite Singapore’s multiculturalism and racial harmony as their greatest source of national pride, yet on the other call Leonard “fat”, “dimwit”, “idiotic” and “bastard” for expressing his personal opinions.
The articles Leonard wrote were more like commentaries instead of conventional news stories. You would know what the difference is if you read the papers often enough.
In a commentary, you express your own point of view. You are given the license to do so. But perhaps those who only know how to blindly agree with an ill-informed consensus and jump onto bandwagons would have trouble understanding the concept of self expression.
These people are hypocrites, the most dangerous breed of parasites who will be the first to tear apart the fragile fabric of social harmony.
Perhaps they should just stick to playing Pokemon Go.
So, to all those people out there shaming Leonard for doing his job. Come, let me clap for you.
You have just made Singapore’s 51st birthday even more remarkable.
Because it must’ve been utterly difficult for a country to stay in existence for this long with citizens like you.