Why It Matters

Boon time for Singapore sport

In a year where Team Singapore bagged one Olympic and two Paralympic golds, the national service deferment granted to swimmer Quah Zheng Wen is yet another boon for Singapore sport.

That the deferment, usually a thorny issue, took less than a month to process is a ringing endorsement of the progress Singapore sport has made. It is a bold statement because the next Olympics is four years away and a lot can happen from now till the Tokyo Games.

As with Joseph Schooling's first deferment in 2013, it also showed once again that, where there is potential in the sportsman, the Ministry of Defence is flexible enough to take a leap of faith and allow the athlete to pursue his dream.

Of course, Quah, 19, made the decision easier, reaching two Olympic semi-finals in only his second outing at the quadrennial meet. That he was the third-youngest competitor among the 200m butterfly semi-finalists and second-youngest in the 100m fly speaks volumes of his talent.

With a clear runway ahead of him, the onus is now on Quah and the Singapore Swimming Association to ensure he gets the best preparation possible for the 2020 Olympics. After all, validation of the decision should not hinge on a medal but the fact that all parties made full use of Mindef's grace.

The deferment will only encourage budding athletes to aim high and pursue excellence.

It is also another step towards strengthening the sporting culture here, and is a move that could have wider implications beyond the swimming pool.

As the outpouring of support from Singaporeans after the gold-medal harvest in Rio proved, sport has the unique ability to both inspire and unite Singaporeans from all backgrounds.

The celebrations for Schooling and the Paralympians saw thousands of fans, united in the sense of pride they felt as Singaporeans, take to the streets to congratulate the athletes.

And each sporting boost, like Quah's latest deferment, means there is a greater chance Singaporeans can revel again in joyous scenes like that of the past seven weeks.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2016, with the headline 'Another fillip for S'pore sport'. Print Edition | Subscribe