journalism, Singapore

Keep quah-iet, lah.

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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.


31 thoughts on “Keep quah-iet, lah.

  1. Anonymous says:

    Great fucking stuff, Alywin. Bluntest to the point and the cursing words were, in my opinion, in order to offer a more intimate account to the writer’s side.
    I did post a differing view, with due respect to Leonard Thomas and it can be viewed over Facebook.

    Suresh Nair


    • Hi Suresh, thanks for leaving your thoughts!

      Yes, I do agree that we as journalists need to respect the personal space and feelings of athletes. On the other hand, these athletes also need to respect what we do. In this case, it’s traveling all the way to where they are to do our job.

      I’m guessing Leonard would not have written what he did if QZW actually stopped and said something along the lines of, “I’m sorry, but I’m really not feeling up to this. Can we do this another time?”

      But no, the swimmer simply walked off. TWICE. Okay, he did utter what seemed like a rather cursory “Hi guys,” once.

      As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think Leonard was very harsh in his opinion. I think people are simply sensationalising the angle.

      What I got from his article was a sense of an athlete’s state of mind and maturity. You know as well as I do that this can be easily twisted into: “LEONARD THOMAS SAYS QZW HAS NO CHARACTER”.

      But to each his own. We all read things differently. And that’s the beauty of opinion.

      My beef is not with QZW. I have not met him before, although many of my peers have lots to say about him regarding his treatment to members of the media.

      What I abhor are people who troll for the sake of doing so.


  2. Alex says:

    Hi Alywinche,

    If anything, Zheng Wen puts him self very well in front of the media. His responses have always been nothing but humbling over the many years, and especially team oriented (watch his seagames interviews for example). There has never been a glimmer of selfishness or attitude in his replies. I think the reason why most people are mad with Leonard is that he simply judged him based on that once instance, totally disregarding the greater picture. Swimming the 100 back is no easy task too.. Sprinting 1 lap in the pool gives you the same feeling as finishing a 2.4km on 9 min flat, except that feeling is compressed into less than a minute. It’s hellish. He’s an extremely humble athlete.


    • Hi Alex, I’m not sure what QZW is like because I have never met him before, and I’m sure doing what he does is extremely hard work. All I’m saying is that he should’ve stopped and said something. Anything.

      I’m not saying he’s a lesser athlete just because he didn’t do so. I’m saying people should shut up if all they can utter are insults to Leonard Thomas.


  3. well written, though i would be stingy with the vulgarities. 🙂 i understand your main beef is with the critics of leonard, especially those who attacked his character. while i was also of the opinion that leonard was harsh in his article, i do not feel that it is gentlemanly or professional (well, i’m not a journalist or writer) to attack his character. in fact, a better outcome from this episode would be for people to encourage our athletes (and journalists), as well as for people to be more gracious toward one another. we can all hope.


    • Hi Yuntai. I totally agree. I think Singapore has done remarkably well on the economic front in a mere 51 years. Graciousness, unfortunately, needs to be work on.


  4. Nathaniel says:

    You detail how being a sports journalist is not an easy job, and there is a pressure to get the story, because it is their job. And there is some measure of respect to be had for those in the media who spend time and effort in reporting facts and delivering stories, all under very tight deadlines. If I were you however, I would be very careful to assert that talking to the media is one of the obligations of an athlete. I know you have a point that you want to make, but I am saying that that athletes too have a point of being there; to win a medal. I’m sorry if you think journalists play any role in their goal and aspirations as an athlete.

    As a matter of being a decent PERSON however, Quah might have spared a thought for hopeful Singaporeans who are eager to see us make a name for ourselves in an international arena. He could have spared a few comments on his feelings after the competition. I’m sure people want to know WHY, whether it is to empathize or criticize. But he owes that to no one, and his reasons are his own.
    What do you propose? That he stop to comment lest he lose his position on the national team? How would that turn out? Some worse case scenarios you could end up with include athletes violating that rule in the midst of a very vulnerable and emotional moment because they just are seriously not caring about anything anymore in that moment, or you get an interview that goes something like this:

    Reporter: “How do you feel about your performance?”

    Quah: “… Not now.”

    Media Liason: “You have to say something, it’s in your contract.”

    In the worst case scenario you end up with a situation where Quah says something he doesn’t mean (either a canned speech from before or fed to with prompting by the media liason) or he fills 5 minutes of completely useless quotes out of spite. This does no one any good.

    Your examples of ministers not paying tax or immune to persecution is awful because it is nothing unlike. Paying taxes and following the law is a legal obligation, answerable to our laws and penalized by fines, jails and whatnot. Being a decent person (short of breaking the law) is not. At most it is only subject to one’s own willingness to live with oneself and the opinion of others around him.
    And while we are on that, let us also consider that your definition of “decent” (I am referring to your use of “obligated” in your article) here is rather debatable. I am open to arguments that Quah, as so many people are saying, owes the media nothing, and speaks nothing of his decency. This, and also compounded further by the fact that besides that, we can also empathise with his anguish, collectively as Singaporeans, supporting our national athletes, at that.

    (I do concede that was very dramatic.)

    If anything, I’ll go back to your story, and my closing words. You have probably changed no one’s opinion, or at the very least, not mine. If I were you, I would have gone straight for where I think your frustrations surely lie: The obnoxious trolls who really crossed the line in the character assassination (thank you Taylor Swift for the use of that word) of Thomas. Let me be clear on my stand on this: I do agree these people are deplorable, and those actions should most certainly not pass off as patriotism.

    Instead, you have chosen the path of asserting that Quah did some wrong somewhere, that (real) journalists are selfless and dedicated to their work, and something-something about politics and forefathers and whatnot. Maybe there are some truths in those points. And sure, people are at least informed can now see the other side of the story, the difficulty and pressure of being a journalist. One might even be inclined to sympathize with BOTH Thomas (or sports journalists) and Quah (or athletes), since they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. But you have, in the same breath of defending Thomas, also put down The Independent, Mothership, and Mr. Brown as not “being real journalists” (okay maybe they aren’t, technically speaking) as if that were some elite and glamorized status.

    And you should have known better that being a journalist is not a glamourous job.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. K says:

    I don’t think the sentiment was whether the media should or should not have interviewed the athletes. Rather the sentiment was against how the reporter(s) chose to then bitch about it after not getting what they want for their job. As you rightly say it, it’s their job. But like every job out there, you don’t always get what you want. So suck it up.


  6. Noel says:

    Hi Alwyn. A friend shared your post and I replied and got a link as a reply

    It turns out that the entire premise of your rant was wrong. Leonard was NOT entitled to a reply. Please see

    It clearly states that “All athletes must pass through the Mixed Zone when leaving the field of play. They are encouraged to participate in interviews, however they are not obliged to answer questions or participate in interviews if they do not wish to do so “


    • Hi Noel. Thanks for this piece of information.

      It’s obvious why the IOC would word it as such. But this doesn’t change my opinion about athletes having an obligation to speak to the media.


      • Noel says:

        I’m sorry but your opinion is just that, an opinion. The IOC document says otherwise.

        Sure it may be/have been a norm, but it clearly is NOT an obligation.

        Where is this over inflated sense if self entitlement coming from?

        Are our local journalists that bad that they need to be given stuff on a silver platter? I thought you said Leonard wasn’t a noon?

        As I mentioned in the share, if celebrities are allowed to ignore journalists, what is so special about our local journalists that they can’t even give the same level of courtesy to people who are representing them and our country?


      • Noel says:

        I’m sorry but are you trolling or just being a pain.

        Just because we disagree with Alywin, doesn’t mean we should be rude or disrespectful.


      • To: Noel

        (can’t seem to reply to your comment directly I think due to comment structure)

        “Just because we disagree with Alywin, doesn’t mean we should be rude or disrespectful.”

        I fully agree, and I am sorry and apologize to Alywin without any reserves.

        Thought he was a dick, turn out I am/was a even bigger dick. And I’m extremely sorry that this happened. No excuse on my part.


      • Hi Noel, yes of course. It is indeed just an opinion.

        I knew someone was going to bring up the issue of self entitlement at some point in time. The way I see it, self entitlement is when journalists expect athletes to answer their questions at any point in time. I can confidently say most journos know their boundaries, and that the mixed zone is where they should be doing the interviews.

        As such, the venue becomes a very important source of information for the journalist to complete his assignment. You might not think that quotes are important to a story, and that Leonard could’ve just gone with a straight match report, but quotes make a story. It adds life. It adds colour.

        Besides, almost all local media would be at this place waiting for a soundbite. Please feel free to disagree, but when there are that many people eager to hear your thoughts about the event you just competed in, I think you’re obliged to say something. Anything. Even two sentences would suffice. Seriously.

        Sure, some reporters would grumble about not having enough material to work with if you provide such a terse response, but as an athlete, you can say you have done your part and would now need to go prepare for the next event.

        I’m saying it is an obligation (yes, I know the IOC is saying otherwise) because I’m a stickler for people doing their professionally. Like I mentioned, the journalists are just there to do their job. The athletes should too.

        I think it’s time we all moved on from this incident and focus on tomorrow.

        I reckon Mr. Schooling is going to medal. I want to save my voice for when that happens.

        Have a good weekend ahead.


  7. thiampeng says:

    Hi, Alywin. As a colleague, I admire your defence of Leonard and attempt to make our job more relatable. Unfortunately (I see Noel has got to it first), your whole argument is factually flawed. Athletes are not obliged to stop in the mixed zone — both athletes and media are briefed on this prior to every major sporting event. I know this for a fact for the Olympics, and I’m quite sure it is for others, where many of my colleagues work at.

    That aside, I actually share Leonard’s opinion that athletes are public figures accountable to the public. Why MSM did not follow up with Zheng Wen and the NSA (you and I know the bridges that exist) stumps me. There are trolls of course, but by writing what he wrote, it’s understandable the wider public would think Leonard’s whining about an assignment he didn’t complete.

    I don’t agree with some of what the alternatives wrote, but I accept that they exist to be alternative. There are seasoned journalists working there so I think the dismissal is uncalled for.

    I also beg to differ that by showing up, we’re supporting them. We show up because there’s news value. It’s a two-way relationship. To Nathaniel’s point, I am merely a bystander and the eyes of the many who can’t be there — the athlete’s quest has nothing to do with me. You set out with admirable intentions but as a sports journalist myself, the way your piece evolved I’m not sure our reputation has been enhanced.


    • Hi Thiam Peng,

      Thanks for expressing your views. It’s much appreciated.

      Like what I just replied Noel, I still see it as an obligation for athletes to talk to the media. Not at any random point in time, but at the mixed zone where they are camped.

      I don’t expect the IOC to officially stipulate that “athletes have an obligation to speak to members of the media” because that will obviously create many problems.

      I don’t expect the majority of people reading this to agree with me, but I feel there is much significance in this particular venue because this is one of the few places where journos actually get to speak to the athlete in person.

      In a major sporting event, I believe that the journo has an obligation to make that trip to the venue because there is national interest in the athlete. As an athlete, I believe the obligation would be to give these individuals your attention, no matter how short a time it might be. Because as you and Leonard have mentioned, they are indeed “public figures accountable to the public”.

      “Hi guys” doesn’t quite cut it.

      Some would say it’s the athlete’s responsibility to talk to the media. Some might say it’s only courteous to do so.

      To me, it’s an obligation.

      It’s nice to know that there are seasoned journalists working at these alternative news sites. Perhaps they haven’t been given the chance to let their experience shine? Because I feel there is still a lack of quality content on these sites.

      I did not write this post to enhance the reputation of journalists. I wrote this post to let people know another side of the story, and that trolling someone who was just trying to do his job is utterly despicable.

      What they choose to believe or whose side they choose to stand on is really not important to me.

      Also, as evidenced by the number of fucks I have planted in this piece, this is not meant to be a no-nonsense commentary.

      Differing opinions aside, I do agree that this is a two-way relationship and that closer relationships can be fostered between the MSM and the NSAs.

      Here’s wishing you a pleasant Friday.

      Liked by 1 person

      • thiampeng says:

        Cheers. I’m confused by your so-called opinion on “obligation”. You believe athletes are obliged, especially in the mixed zone. I’m explaining that they’re not, especially not in the mixed zone. This is why there are rules and I don’t think Noel and I are discussing with you a matter of opinion. You “don’t expect the IOC to officially stipulate” — maybe because it’s plain wrong to do so? I think you’re arguing that athletes “should”, as opposed to “have to”. I have to call this out because the premise of your article is based on an inaccuracy, not merely an opinion. And aside from mixed-zone rules, did an editor of yours tell you that athletes are obliged to speak to the media?


    • Hi Thiam Peng,

      Yes, it’s stated in black and white that they don’t have to speak to journos. That’s the IOC’s opinion, which obviously bears more weight than mine.

      My personal opinion is that they are.

      If you’re saying that my personal opinion doesn’t matter, like how some of the other people in this comments section have, sure, go ahead.

      According to law, gay marriages aren’t permitted. I don’t share the same opinion.

      According to law, you cannot consume alcohol in public from 10.30pm to 7am. I don’t share the same opinion.

      What you seem to be suggesting is that since the organizers have laid down the law stipulating that athletes are not obliged to speak to the media, I should share that same opinion. Do you agree with all the laws out there?

      I don’t believe I have stated anywhere in my blog post that the athletes are bound by some sort of contract or law to speak to the media. Looking back, perhaps I should have explicitly stated that this is my personal opinion, seeing how you seem adamant about the fact that I was aiming to mislead people. But this is my personal blog. It is a platform of my opinions.

      Again, you can say that my personal opinions don’t matter. Sure, go ahead.

      It seems the only way this can be resolved is if I acknowledge that you are indeed correct and refile this blog post to state that athletes are NOT obliged to comment, or change the word “obliged” to “should” or “are encouraged”.

      Look, this is not going to happen.

      I stand by my opinion, but I respect that you don’t share the same perspective on matters.

      I think it’s time we ended this debate. It’s time to celebrate Mr. Schooling’s triumph with a pint or two.


  8. Daniel Lee says:

    You are pretty opinionated eh?

    You said “To me, it’s an obligation.” Unfortunately for you, it is your opinions. I guess, unless you wrote it into law, no one could care much about your opinions, anyways.

    End of the day, it is the job of journalists to travel to cover news and write reports. You chose your job and, nobody forced you to. So quit bitching about how hard it is. Nobody is obliged to make it any easier for you. Sense of entitlement.

    My job is pretty tough too, so you wanna help me out as well?


  9. Abe says:

    Why are you trying to debunk what the internet trolls are saying? They, as you so rightly point out, don’t care about the other side of the story. With your knowledge and understanding of Leonard Thomas and journalism, you could have assessed the situation from a more neutral perspective. Sure, Quah shouldn’t have ignored the press in the mixed zone – that’s something he has to learn from. Sure, the online vitriol against Leonard Thomas have far surpassed what he deserves. Many have gone on to lodge personal attacks. That’s wrong. Some also challenge Leonard Thomas to swim at the Olympics, comparing their professions which is for one, beside the point and most importantly, isn’t a fair comparison. But when I scrutinise the article at hand, I feel a lot of saltiness, a hurt ego and a sense of entitlement. Quah may not have fulfilled his obligations as a national athlete but I wonder whether writing more about a media snub than about the race itself is ‘doing his job properly’. You can disagree but I think Thomas could have been more gracious instead of coming off so snarky. It was well within his right to but couldn’t a veteran like Thomas ‘give chance’ to the Olympics newbie?

    A more neutral assessment of the whole saga from a veteran journalist:


    • Hi Abe,

      Thanks for leaving your thoughts.

      In the media world, it’s no secret that bad news is good news, and controversial news is, well, sometimes even better news because it gets you a lot more eyeballs in this digital age.

      I don’t know if this was what Leonard intended to do. I’m no longer a reporter. I no longer work with him.

      I’m afraid I have to disagree about Leonard being snarky. The articles didn’t read like that to me. I’m not saying this because he used to be my boss. I’m saying the comprehension of language can be a very subjective thing.

      But having re-read the two pieces he wrote, I can understand why many people would feel this way.

      That being said, even if he did realise the ruckus his two stories could’ve caused before they went out, I don’t think he should hold back and write something that’s palatable to the masses instead. Something that’s nice and fluffy and inspiration and feel good.

      I have indeed read the Middle Ground piece. And yes it is certainly a neutral assessment of the situation. Have you read the commentary by Rohit in the Straits Times? He’s one hell of a writer, and I think he has provided valuable insights into the other side of the story in a much eloquent manner.



  10. Pingback: Alywin Chew's Hypocritical Defence of Leonard Thomas -

  11. Anonymous says:

    “Hell, the fact we are even there to cover them in action shows our support”
    LOL, if he chose to do that of his own will, then sure it is. Hell, it’s his freaking damn job to do so. While it may be frustrating/whatever that Leonard might have felt being snubbed at, note that as a journalist, whatever he publish get seen by the world, or at least by the majority of Singapore. Whoever is the wrong in the first place isn’t the big deal here, but publicly shaming a 19-year-old teenager, adding on to the emotional distraught of one who devoted the entirety of his life towards his dream and seeing that dream being crushed at the instance. This is a lack of…you know what? Empathy, which Leonard apparently has left it in a cupboard hidden somewhere.

    As you have said yourself, everyone is entitled to their own personal opinions. And to me, dimwitted Leonard remains a dimwit.


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  13. Anonymous says:

    just read this and incredulous at the sense of entitlement by the author. So its your opinion and just because everyone is entitled to their opinion – therefore that makes your views right? jeeze.

    And sure, someone refusing an interview is just as important as denying a gay person’s right to marriage. Pretty insightful of you to figure out that both issues rank the same on what matters to the human race.


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