Powerlifting: Crowdfunding helps brothers return home from Minsk

Singapore powerlifter Matthew Yap was told when entering Belarus on June 16 that his trip fell within the five-day limit permitted without a visa. But when he and his brother were leaving on June 21, an official interpreted the rules differently and
Singapore powerlifter Matthew Yap was told when entering Belarus on June 16 that his trip fell within the five-day limit permitted without a visa. But when he and his brother were leaving on June 21, an official interpreted the rules differently and said the siblings needed a visa or they could face deportation.PHOTO: INTERNATIONAL POWERLIFTING FEDERATION

Online donors help powerlifter and sibling who faced visa problem in Belarus

He was the beneficiary of a crowdfunding effort, and now, Matthew Yap wants to pay it forward.

The Singapore powerlifter told The Straits Times that he wants to set up a fund to benefit future powerlifters after an emergency effort helped get him and his brother Marcus out of a sticky situation in Belarus on Wednesday.

The pair were detained at immigration as they tried to leave the country because they did not have the requisite visa.

They were in Belarus for the World Classic Powerlifting Championships, where Matthew set a new world squat record of 208kg in the men's Under-66kg sub-junior division (14- to 18-year-olds) on Sunday. Marcus, 23, went to the world event as a coach.

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They were detained by immigration officials, who demanded that they pay a US$600 (S$830) fine or sign deportation documents, as they were leaving the country on Wednesday.

The brothers then missed their flight and needed to purchase new tickets from Lufthansa. They were quoted €949 (S$1,470) each. Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs then stepped in to negotiate with the German airline, bringing down the price to €603 for both.

With just 100 Belarusian rubles (S$72) left in their wallets, Matthew and Marcus were still unable to pay the sum.

Someone they were in touch with then suggested crowdfunding, although they were hesitant about pursuing that option.

Said Matthew in a phone call from the Minsk National Airport: "This is a burden of ours and we didn't want to share it with others.

"(But) we were in need of the visa because we were so tired. So we thought, 'Let's proceed with the funding'."

The sum of $2,685 was swiftly raised on crowdfunding website Give.asia and Matthew knows what he wants to do with the leftover funds.

Said the 18-year-old Republic Polytechnic student : "I really want to set up a fund with the remaining amount of money to fund or subsidise the next batch of powerlifters, be it their T-shirts or jackets, or split it among all of them to offset their (plane) tickets or competition fees."

When asked why they did not turn to their father for help, Matthew said it was "one of the last resorts", and added: "We were aware of the alimony he has to pay. Recently, he bought me a laptop because I'm in a polytechnic, and (also got) my two brothers a laptop.

"He had major expenses and we didn't want to put an extra burden on him."

Powerlifting Singapore was reportedly not in a position to help the Yaps financially, due to its status. As it is not a National Sports Association (NSA), it does not receive public funding to assist its athletes.

However, vice-president Tan Say Yong said it has been in talks with Sport Singapore over the last three years to attain that status.

There were three other athletes and a handler from Singapore in Minsk too, but they did not face the same issue, despite also not having the visa that is required for any stay over five days.

Daphne Loo, media officer for Powerlifting Singapore, said: "The officer (dealing with the Yaps) at (their) entry said (16-21 June) is five days. But the officer at the departure didn't calculate it that way."

When asked why he did not take up weightlifting - a cousin of powerlifting - which enjoys NSA status and would allow him to represent Singapore at multiple competitions such as the SEA Games, Asian Games and the Olympics, Matthew said: "Although all these sponsorships do play a part in easing the burden of an athlete, allowing the athlete to perform to his or her optimum, it's a totally different sport.

"They're still swinging weights, but I don't think I'd enjoy it at all."

WATCH

The Yap brothers thank supporters in video message str.sg/4Ef7

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2017, with the headline 'Funding helps brothers return home from Minsk'. Print Edition | Subscribe