Case Studies, Personal Branding, PR/Marketing, Singapore
Comments 2

The one thing Feng Tianwei and Michelle Obama have in common.

[Photo of Tianwei from STTA.]

[Update: If you are interested in reading why the STTA’s media statement is strange, read this post.]

I read with interest the “Ping Pong Game” played between the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) and Feng Tianwei. Basically STTA and Tianwei were involved in a rather ugly spat, with STTA announcing that she’d be dropped due to “rejuvenation plans”.

This must have been really tough for one of Singapore’s top sportswomen to bear. Character assassination was involved–made not “officially” and in the personal capacity of one person from STTA. Such accusations of course, are always difficult to deal with emotionally, especially when it comes from people you have once worked with and once trusted.

And I read Tianwei’s really excellent response in Chinese. It was so graceful that I must say that I was really impressed! It really reminded me of Michelle Obama’s Public Relations guideline of –“When they go low, we go high.”

So I thought I’d write why this response is excellent from the Public Relations perspective today. Note that this is purely from a PR perspective–I have zero “insiders’ information” on hand and I don’t personally know people from “either sides”.

The following is the translation by The Middle Ground, emphasis in bold mine–

“HELLO everyone. I’m so grateful for the concern that everyone has given me. I’ve let everyone worry, I’m very sorry about that.

What happened this week happened suddenly, I myself also needed some time to adjust. That’s why I’ve stayed silent these few days, and have not responded. Thank you all for waiting so patiently.

Ever since I began representing Singapore in table tennis in 2007, it has been almost 10 years. During this time, I’ve had some achievements. I became a world champion. I won a few Olympic medals, and standing on the world’s largest award podium, I have fulfilled a childhood dream of mine.

I’ve made it possible for the Singapore flag to fly high in the international sporting scene, and for Singapore’s national anthem to echo around the world.

I would not have been able to achieve all this without the help of the Singapore government, sports committee members, Olympic committee, the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA), and the strong support from all over.

Here, I wish to express my sincerest thanks to all of these people.

At the same time, I would also like to thank my fans and the people who have supported me. Thank you for being with me on this journey through tough times. You have filled me with motivation as I pressed on in my journey. Because of you, I have not felt lonely.

The Singapore government has given me opportunities. It has allowed me to become a citizen, and represent the country to compete internationally. To have a career in table tennis is something that I’ve fought for in my life. I will not give it up easily. I will continue to play, continue to represent Singapore, continue to fight on the international stage. I hope that I can help to develop Singapore’s table tennis scene and make it better. I hope that this will prove to everyone that the Singapore government’s support of local sports will have guaranteed returns!

Even though I am no longer on the national squad, I will still live in Singapore. I am still on a scholarship, and am still in discussions with various organisations on competing in the sport. STTA has also said it would continue to support me if I choose to compete internationally.

Therefore, I will continue to strive and not give up on myself. I want to continue to compete as a representative of Singapore.

I feel regretful that I was not able to bring back any medals from the recently concluded Olympic games. It was through this experience that I recognised that I still have a lot of room for improvement.

I plan to put together a team, hire different expert coaches, and return to the competition arena in a new way. Perhaps this will bring even more opportunities for me to grow as a player.

I want to train and compete harder. I want to improve myself by playing against and sharing experiences with the world’s greatest players.

I hope to have the opportunity to compete in fair and open competitions internationally, and wish that I will be able to compete in the 2020 Olympics. I want to bring back more Olympic medals for Singapore, to get the fourth Olympic medal of my sporting career.

These few days, there have been some newspapers that have untruthfully reported on my character and attacked me personally. This has created an extremely ugly situation. I am shocked that these rumours have surfaced.

During my contracted time with STTA, I have never cheated anyone of money, or acted in any way that was unlawful. I have already consulted a lawyer on these false claims, and hope there will not be any more of such untruthful reports.

Finally, I want to thank everyone and my friends in the media for their support and for respecting my privacy. I am a Singapore citizen. To be able to give my strength for the glory of Singapore is my honour. Please continue to support me!

I would like to contribute and continue to represent Singapore. From the bottom of my heart, thank you very much for your support.

Thank you everyone!”

Such eloquence! I must say that I’m very, very impressed by this message.

Have you ever wondered what is the exact meaning behind the statement “When they go low, we go high?”

I have! And through Feng Tianwei’s response, I now know.

It means to respond to personal attacks with grace and class. This method of response is independent of who is right or wrong.

Exactly what is grace and class? These are simply thoughts and phrasings like:

  • Gratitude: “I am thankful that…”From the letter, she was thankful for a lot of things.
  • Apology: “I’m sorry for making everyone worry.”
  • Regret: “I regret not being able to bring back a medal in spite of doing my best.”
  • Express limitations: “I still have a lot of room for improvement.”
  • Even giving credit to the association that kicked her out: “I would never have achieved all of these national accomplishments for Singapore without the support of the association.”

I am sure both the STTA and Feng Tianwei are not completely “in the right”. It’s clear that communication must have broken down somewhere, and at some point both parties do not trust each other anymore.

As my friend Celeste once wisely said– trust comes first, and then communication.

Indeed, it is a huge pity that along the way, our great Table Tennis talent is reduced to nothing more than a KPI. That is nothing short of disappointing, isn’t it?

Or are we holding our naturalised Singaporean citizen to different standards just because she isn’t a “true blue Singaporean”?

The way I see it–Tianwei is a fighter. And a classy one at that. Her eloquent, graceful letter reminded me of the popular saying:

“When a toxic person can no longer control you, they will try to control how others see you. This misinformation will feel unfair, but stay above it, trusting that other people will eventually see the truth, just like you did.”

Anyway, given the amount of nasty things STTA said about her, I’m glad she’s on her own now. I know that she will do even better.

And if Tianwei is reading this…





  1. you don’t drop a top 10 player in the world for no good reason.. STTA gave a very lame reason for axing FTW.. how many sports personalities does Singapore have that are in the top 10 in the world in any sport? a handful? the women’s table tennis player from Luxembourg was 56 yrs old.. what’s Singapore’s excuse now? its a blardy farce the STTA

  2. Bingbong says

    Indeed. If Feng bagged a medal back from the Olympics, would they still axe her because of their “rejuvenation” plans.

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