2015 Asean Para Games

Asean Para Games: Truly one team Singapore

Table tennis singles Class 2 silver medallist Jason Chee saluting the near full house at OCBC Arena Hall 1, which gave him a standing ovation for his dogged fight in the 2-3 loss to Thailand's Natthawut Thinathet in their final round-robin clash. For
Table tennis singles Class 2 silver medallist Jason Chee saluting the near full house at OCBC Arena Hall 1, which gave him a standing ovation for his dogged fight in the 2-3 loss to Thailand's Natthawut Thinathet in their final round-robin clash. For many fans, the Games were the first time that they watched disabled sportsmen and women in action.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Nearly 100,000 fans watch events and almost half a million throng Hub carnival

The 8th Asean Para Games (APG) in Singapore have proven to be a hit among locals with almost a hundred thousand spectators attending the week-long event.

Entry was free to all 15 sports offered across nine competition venues and while the atmosphere at popular ones like swimming and badminton was buzzing with near-capacity crowds, lesser-known ones like goalball and football five-a-side were also well-received by the public.

"Usually the crowd (at Singapore Disability Sports Council events) comprise only family members, a few friends watching them play," said chef de mission Raja Singh. "But at the Games venues you can see that huge support from everyone. I have been to many Asean Para Games, and the crowd at this APG is even more than all the rest, you won't see that huge a crowd even at the Asian Para Games."

In addition, the APG carnival at the Singapore Sports Hub, which started on Nov 28, drew a total of 442,103 visitors.

Said undergraduate Chan Si Yong, 23, who watched badminton, boccia, athletics and cerebral palsy football with his girlfriend: "It is encouraging that people are turning up to watch and cheer the athletes on even though the event is not that big on the world stage; they're here just to enjoy the sporting events."

The athletes themselves were overwhelmed by the support showered upon them. The sight of a full house of more than 200 supporters - with several holding placards bearing his name - at the Marina Bay Sands Hall B moved local powerlifter Kalai Vanen.

Each of his three attempts on Tuesday was greeted by a standing ovation. Despite being a debutant in a strong Asian-class field, the gym instructor won a surprise bronze medal in the 97kg division.

Said the 56-year-old, whose left leg was amputated nearly 30 years ago because of a tumour: "It's fantastic performing in front of the home crowd, thanks a lot from my team to the whole of Singapore."

Wheelchair racer William Tan, a Paralympian and veteran of many para sports championships, added: "We were very conscious that fans are behind us, we are invigorated by that to give our best for Singapore."

Many of the supporters were friends, family and colleagues of the participants and they were out in large numbers to salute them.

Bowler Eric Foo, 27, who has an intellectual disability, had his boss Edmond Ng at the Temasek Club cheering him on.

Said Ng, 46, head of operations at international law firm Baker & Mckenzie.Wong & Leow: "Eric has been working for me for six years. His attitude in sports translates into his work, where he is very serious and diligent, so I came down as a small way to show moral support."

With the APG being held in the Republic for the first time, the host fielded a record contingent of 154 athletes, more than half of whom were debutants.

The level of competition may not have reached the heights seen at the SEA Games in June but spectators were no less impressed.

Said IT manager Adrian Ee, 39: "I am inspired by this swimmer whom I saw had just one leg and both of his arms were amputated.

PUBLIC BACKING

It is encouraging that people are turning up to watch and cheer the athletes on even though the event is not that big on the world stage.

CHAN SI YONG, undergraduate

"But he was still swimming the butterfly (stroke), which requires the use of the arms the most. But even without his arms, he was still able to do that. It was amazing."

Given the physical limitations of many of the 1,200 para-athletes from around the region, it was an eye-opening experience for fans.

Mohammad Rosdi, 51, was impressed by the skill of visually impaired bowlers.

Said the Singapore Polytechnic lecturer: "I have never seen how disabled people play sports before so it is interesting to see how they position themselves on the lane and hit the pins when even we, as able-bodied people, cannot hit a strike."

The ability to control a bowling ball notwithstanding, there were other valuable lessons that spectators - particularly those with children - were keen to soak in.

Said housewife and mother of three Josse Tan, 43: "I hope the kids can grow up knowing how to empathise with people with disabilities.

"So if they see a disabled person, you don't just question why are they like that, but they learn to see what they can accomplish and do."

  • Additional reporting by Vanessa Kang, Matthew Mohan and Justin Kor
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2015, with the headline 'Truly one team Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe