THE furore over Singapore Airline's sponsorship of a New Zealand side at the recent World Dragon Boat Championships has raised the hackles of some Singaporeans.
But to criticise the airline for not funding the Republic's youth team instead may not be the fairest thing to do.
Questions must be raised about how the sport is run and what kind of official funding, if any, was made available to the young dragon boaters in the first place.
Singapore's junior Dragon Boat team in training. ST PHOTO
Mr Dennis Tan, the father of one of the Singapore rowers, painted an emotive picture of how he and his child struggled to raise money for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, only to be confronted by a Kiwi team emblazoned with the SIA logo at the event.
His disappointment is heartfelt, if not understandable.
Earlier this week, I spoke to officials from the Singapore Dragon Boat Association (SDBA), a national sports body which had previously only made the news after five national rowers perished in a tragic accident in Cambodia two years ago.
The SDBA's stark financial reality is this: As one of the 10 sports ranked in the fourth tier of the Singapore Sports Council's annual funding review, they receive between $100,000 to $200,000 from government coffers each year.
Sending the 49 student rowers to Prague for the World Championships would have drained these funds completely.
To be fair, the SDBA boasts two big-hitting sponsors: Singapore Pools and the Singapore Tourism Board.
But it is not known how much the two organisations contribute to the sport in terms of actual cash.
What we do know is that the SDBA can only afford to upkeep a senior national team and that all it did was to "endorse" the juniors' participation at the World Championships.
For a sport which has now delivered international honours, it is criminal to simply continue giving young talented rowers a pat on their back and sending them on their way — without forking out a single cent.
The SDBA needs to regroup and find a way to maintain a formal national youth squad, and not rely on schools, parents and students to do the hard work for them.
They also need to take a more aggressive approach to securing sponsorship — witness how sports like netball produce glossy brochures and customised marketing proposals to woo potential sponsors.
Armed with a world title and a little more marketing savvy, it shouldn't be too hard to make sponsors — even those at SIA — to sit up and take notice.