The way forward for sports in Singapore

By Muhd Muhaimin Suzaini

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Team Singapore for their extraordinary achievements in the recent 2015 South East Asia (SEA) Games. They won a total of 84 gold medals in this year’s event that was held in its home turf, surpassing the 1993 SEA Games gold medal tally. This is also an added bonus as the nation celebrates its Golden Jubilee.

The regional SEA Games indicate the presence of local sporting talents and this can be used as a platform to propel local athletes to greater heights in the international stage. While we rejoice the achievements that our local heroes earned, we must move on and strive for greater things.

Never mind the SEA Games. On a larger scale do we have what it takes to produce world-class athletes that can compete for world championships and ultimately in the Olympics? This boils down to the sport development system to groom and prepare local athletes for the bigger stage.

I strongly suggest spotting and grooming talents from a very young age. Although tangible outcomes can only be seen in the long run, it is a tried and tested formula that is proven to be effective with proper guidance and execution.

For starters, domestically, there are a few sports that have their very own development system that proved effective in producing top-notch athletes that are on par with (or perhaps even better than) the top athletes. Swimming is such a sport that has consistently been delivering results and shaping the region’s best swimmers.

Looking at this year alone, it has produced the nation’s most prolific swimmer and a future star, Joseph Schooling. At 20 years old, the SEA Games champion and recently crowned bronze medalist in the FINA World Championships has already broken the national record timings for the third time at the meet and set a new Asian record. I foresee greater success for him for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

How did he become so good? He started at a very young age and that is what the Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) has implemented. In a report in the New Paper in 2014, SSA revamped its Junior National Development Squad (JNDS) to capitalise on young talents and hone their skills to prepare them for the national team.

On the international front, football powerhouse Germany also adopts this practice. The bulk of the national team today is made up of players under its Youth Development Program (YDP). The YDP blueprint outlines the efforts made to start players from young and follow through their progress to maximise each player’s potential. The program hit the pinnacle when Germany won the World Cup 2014. Notable players that started from the program include Marco Reus, Matt Hummels and Mario Gotze.

Moving on, I think it is also time that more corporate bodies in Singapore chip in to help potential athletes. This can be done in a few ways, mainly sponsorship, scholarships or training waiver fees. Looking at the United Kingdom (UK) for inspiration, athletes are given the opportunity to seek help from corporations for different sponsorship programs on a dedicated web portal. This allows athletes to fully focus on training and excelling in whatever sport they are in without having to worry about expenses on a daily basis.

In contrast, only a handful of corporations and education institutions in Singapore welcome the initiative to support athletes to allow them to continue their elite sports training and participation in competitions. For instance, swimmer Sng Ju Wei and bowler Rena Teng were linked up with Standard Chartered Bank. They are given the flexibility to continue their elite sports training and participate in competitions.

This is due to the fact that out of some 1,000 athletes carded by the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) yearly, only a few are full-time sportsmen. The rest are made up of students and working adults who split their time between studies or work, and training, a Straits Time article on 1 May 2013 reported.

Therefore, with the success of the SEA Games in mind, Singapore still has a long way to go in developing a vibrant sporting scene. It will take time, as well as ample support from stakeholders such as parents, sports administrators, corporate sponsors and employers.

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