IT was way back in the 1960s when former national sprinter and rugby player Natahar Bava was offered a contract to advertise for a balm to help relieve muscle aches. The former athlete, a podium finisher at the 1965 and 1967 South-east Asia Peninsular Games and 1966 Asian Games, decided to turn down the offer.
It would have affected his amateur status, ruling Bava - who later became a recognised rugby coach - out of many subsequent international competitions.
The line between an amateur athlete and a professional sportsman remains blurred to this day, with tweaked rules allowing amateurs to carry sponsorship logos on their attire.
I was mulling over this subject when I attended a recent golf promotion function where the sponsor, PXG, made former Singapore's No 1 golfer Lam Chih Bing its golf ambassador.
Lam, who now works as a senior client adviser for United Overseas Bank, had decided to give up his pro status and is currently serving a mandatory two-year term before returning to becoming an amateur in October next year.
The affable, well-mannered conversationalist who projects an image to be admired by any sponsor, can be a true ambassador for any company, dealing in sports or otherwise.
He is a charismatic figure who reflects the true worth of his sponsor. PXG (Parsons Xtreme Golf), the company brand he promotes, says it is happy with his service.
Many Singapore sports people enjoy such comforts. For long, Singapore's top pro golfer Mardan Mamat reaped the rewards of the sponsorships from Pan-West and Yonex, two leading sports brands.
National pro golfer Quincy Quek has had a long association with German car company Audi, and he enjoys some perks from them, like appearing in the company's events for a fee and given the use of its car whenever there is a major golf tournament in Singapore.
In fact, some of these sportsmen do not have to win titles regularly. Such is the case with pro golfer and long-hitter Timothy Low, who promotes the German fashion brand Hugo Boss. He is slated to join a group of company bosses on a trip to Cambodia when Hugo Boss opens up a shop in the country soon.
Hugo Boss will draw marketing interest when it showcases former world No 1 golfer Martin Kaymer, who has struck a long-term partnership with the fashion brand, at a golf event at the Singapore Island Country Club on Oct 18.
The biggest local name in sports today is swimmer Joseph Schooling. Since his Rio Olympics 100-metres butterfly gold medal win two years ago, he is being sought after by many companies, and his parents Colin and May have been helping him manage his expectations.
Schooling, who is also an ambassador for several brands - including Hugo Boss, Canon, Tag Heuer, Toyota, DBS Bank, Speedo, Milo and Yakult - has been appearing in many advertisements these days. He is also brand promoter for martial arts organisation ONE Championship, and he has attended several of their 'live' events so far. Schooling is famous enough to ensure delivery of the purposes and targets for these companies.
But the sponsorship end-game is such that if an athlete has the right personality, charm and purposeful eloquence to push marketing potential, he or she would have done well. Being a consistent winner in the sport, such as Schooling is, provides that additional boost to the brand.