Priority to have 'strong ecosystem of support' for all national athletes

(Seated, from left) Paralympic swimmers Yip Pin Xiu and Theresa Goh, boccia players Toh Sze Ning and Nurulasyiqah Taha, track and field athlete Suhairi Suhani and archer Nur Syahidah Alim at the One Team Singapore celebratory parade last month. The e
(Seated, from left) Paralympic swimmers Yip Pin Xiu and Theresa Goh, boccia players Toh Sze Ning and Nurulasyiqah Taha, track and field athlete Suhairi Suhani and archer Nur Syahidah Alim at the One Team Singapore celebratory parade last month. The entire team of Paralympians has been invited to next month's Parliament sitting to honour them for their achievements in Rio.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

That's more crucial than cash prizes; they also need good career options after sporting career ends: Minister

Instead of diverting resources to fund post-competition award schemes for Team Singapore athletes, the Government's focus is on providing a sustained, structured and comprehensive support system for all national sportsmen, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu told Parliament yesterday.

The medals won by swimmers Yip Pin Xiu and Theresa Goh at last month's Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro gave Singapore its best-ever performance of two golds and a bronze.

The achievements sparked renewed calls from the public for Paralympic medallists to enjoy equal prize money vis-a-vis Olympic medal winners. It is currently pegged at 20 per cent.

Swimmer Joseph Schooling, who won Singapore's first Olympic gold in August, will receive $1 million under the Singapore National Olympic Council's (SNOC) Multi-Million Dollar Award Programme.

Yip will receive $400,000 - $200,000 for each of her two Paralympic golds - through the Singapore National Paralympic Council (SNPC) Athlete's Achievement Award Programme.

In response to questions on this topic from MPs Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) and Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson), and Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh, Ms Fu said: "Instead of focusing on post-podium rewards, we believe our role is to support our athletes up front in their journey to the podium.

"We want more of them to get to the podium and bring pride to the nation. We support them through providing scholarships that pay them reasonably well to train full time."

She added that Sport Singapore (SportSG) supports 1,653 athletes - of which about 120 are para-athletes - across 45 sports, at a cost of $60 million annually.

There is also the $40 million Sports Excellence scholarships, which provide monthly stipends of between $1,200 and $8,400 to cover training and coaching costs. Eight of the 72 national athletes under this scholarship are para-athletes, including Yip, who became Singapore's first Paralympic champion in 2008.

Ms Fu noted: "SportSG would not be able to help as many aspiring athletes pursue their dreams, if it had to divert resources to fund post-competition award schemes."

Rather than one-off cash prizes, the priority is to develop a "strong and sustainable ecosystem of support" for all national athletes. This includes sharing their inspiring stories with the public and creating good career opportunities when their sporting careers end, she said.

Both SNOC and SNPC's reward schemes are funded by the Tote Board and Singapore Pools, and Dr Goh asked for an update on possible changes to these monetary rewards. Ms Fu explained that both schemes are handled by separate non-governmental organisations, and added: "They need to have conversations with their donors and supporters because both organisations may have different needs and objectives. It's best to leave them to look at their overall plan."

She stressed that the Government does not discriminate between able-bodied and para-athletes in terms of support, citing how, for example, some para-athletes need to be accompanied by a caregiver constantly. She added: "In preparation for Rio 2016, we provided more funding for our Paralympians than their Olympic counterparts in some cases."

Ms Fu said she has also invited Singapore's 13-strong team of Paralympians to next month's Parliament sitting, where she will move a motion to pay tribute to their achievements in Rio.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 11, 2016, with the headline 'Priority to have 'strong ecosystem of support' for all national athletes'. Print Edition | Subscribe