2016 Paralympic Games

Legacy of the ASEAN Para games endures

Stephan Chen, 33, (left) and Inez Hung, 24, (right) playing goalball. They picked up the sport after the Asean Para Games last year. They represent the new wave of disabled people taking part in para sports.
Stephan Chen, 33, (left) and Inez Hung, 24, (right) playing goalball. They picked up the sport after the Asean Para Games last year. They represent the new wave of disabled people taking part in para sports. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

More athletes are taking part in para sports; S'pore contingent in Rio hope to inspire more

Before last year's Asean Para Games, the idea of representing Singapore in a sport barely crossed 33-year-old Stephan Chen's mind.

Yet Chen, who is partially blind, could now represent Singapore in goalball after joining the national set-up in May.

Away from the court and in the pool, 10-year-old Jeremiah Liauw, who has spina bifida, started training in March.

Five months later, he won all his three events at the Singapore Press Holdings Foundation National Para-Swimming Championships.

They represent a new normal in the country's sporting landscape as more people with disabilities turn to sport.

Raja Singh, Team Singapore's chef de mission at the APG last year, feels there is now greater participation in and awareness of para sport.

It is the legacy of the APG, the first to be staged in Singapore. Since the Games, the Singapore Disability Sports Council said it has recruited 30 more athletes into the national set-up of 19 sports.

PUSHING FORWARD

It's not just sports. The Paralympics is the highest level (for para sports), and it shows that, whatever you want to do, it's in your hands - as long as you have the determination to push.

RAJA SINGH, Team Singapore's chef de mission at the Asean Para Games last year, on why the Paralympics can help to continue the momentum that was built from the APG.

This excludes the number of people who called to enquire about training on a recreational basis.

Besides the APG, strides have been made in other areas.

The biennial Singapore National Games included five para sports for the first time this year.

Then there is a nationwide push, as part of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth's Disability Sports Master Plan, to get more disabled people to pick up sport.

This includes the setting up of Centres of Expertise islandwide, sports centres which offer tailor-made programmes for people with disabilities.

A first run of a para-swimming programme at one such centre in Sengkang has seen an 80 per cent take-up rate. There were 80 spots available. A second run planned before the end of the year is almost fully subscribed.

Kerk Kim Por, ActiveSG's director for para (disability) sport added that a pioneer batch of participants are taking part in wheelchair rugby at the ActiveSG Toa Payoh Sports Centre.

All these, after a successful hosting of the APG, where Singaporeans - able-bodied or otherwise - witnessed the astonishing feats of the region's para-athletes.

They watched in awe as Filipino swimmer Ernie Gawilan, who was born with under-developed limbs and whose mother tried to abort him, became the first male swimmer from his country to qualify for the Paralympics.

They watched as Singapore's Yip Pin Xiu, up against swimmers more mobile than her, won a race in world-record time.

Raja said: "We've come very far. Singaporeans are talking about para sport but we need to continue this momentum and keep putting in more effort."

This is why the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, where Singapore will field a record 13 athletes, could not have come at a better time.

Raja, 55, believes it will be a timely reminder of the possibilities that lie ahead for people with disabilities, beyond the sporting arena.

"It's not just sports. The Paralympics are the highest level (for para sports), and it shows that, whatever you want to do, it's in your hands - as long as you have the determination to push."

Yip, Team Singapore's flag bearer at the Rio Games and a medal contender in the 50m backstroke, summed it up when she spoke openly about her desire to inspire Singaporeans with her feats.

She said: "I think Singaporeans were really touched when they saw the APG up close, whether as volunteers or spectators. As athletes, we know our performances can help to move things so that's what we should really focus on.

"Then hopefully the rest will fall into place."


•Additional reporting by Yogaraj Panditurai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2016, with the headline 'Legacy of the ASEAN Para games endures'. Print Edition | Subscribe