A day after saying that the MRT would be the primary mode of transport during the Asean Para Games (APG), organisers have clarified that athletes will be equally welcome to also use dedicated shuttle buses during the Dec 3-9 event.
At a hastily-arranged press briefing yesterday, Singapore Asean Para Games Organising Committee (Sapgoc) chairman Lim Teck Yin said it will be up to the athletes to decide which option suits them best for travelling to and from the Kallang cluster.
"I won't be disappointed if the athletes don't take the train in the end," he added. "It's their choice and we must respect it."
To understand the sequence of events, ST digital news editor Ernest Luis spoke with sports correspondent Sanjay Nair - who has covered the stories thus far - in an episode of a new series called Why It Matters.
The Straits Times reported Thursday that team managers had been told in a briefing last week by the Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC) that athletes would take the MRT from the Games Village at Marina Bay Sands (MBS) to the Singapore Sports Hub - and vice versa.
Sapgoc statement in full
Full statement from Singapore Asean Para Games Organising Committee (Sapgoc) chairman Lim Teck Yin to The Straits Times on Wednesday:
Unlike the SEA Games, all athletes and officials for the 8th Asean Para Games are housed in one location - the Games Village at the Marina Bay Sands. The Games Village and the Sports Hub are very well connected by the Circle Line (MRT) with only two stops between them, which means participants can travel faster than the shuttle buses.
Beyond the easy accessibility, the organising committee wants to enable a spirit of inclusiveness where general commuters and the persons with disabilities will be part of one society sharing the common space. This was part of the overall concept of the Games from the start. The community with disabilities were consulted and they, as well as the Asean Para Sports Federation (APSF) and the Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC) welcomed the idea.
We have made the Circle Line (MRT) between Bayfront and Stadium stations as the primary mode of transport for the athletes and officials as it allows athletes and officials a seamless journey to and from the Sports Hub.
For those who are unable to take the Circle Line (MRT), we will provide adequate buses to bring them to the Sports Hub. Designated buses will also be provided for all other competition venues.
We also provide athletes Cepas (Contactless e-Purse Application) cards with stored value. For athletes who take the Circle Line (MRT), there will be chaperones accompanying athletes right up to their competition venue. The organising committee will be working closely with all partners to create a safe and enjoyable journey for the athletes, officials and the other commuters.
We also hope that these commuters will take this opportunity to meet and cheer our athletes, and encourage them to give their best for Singapore.
Mr Lim had told ST on Wednesday that trains would be the "primary mode of transport for athletes and officials".
Yesterday, the Sport Singapore chief executive stressed there is "a bus plan which caters to everybody" with "enough wheelchair-accessible buses" for the athletes.
He added that he was trying to find out details of the SDSC meeting on Oct 1. SDSC officials were absent from yesterday's press briefing.
SAPGOC CHAIRMAN LIM TECK YIN ON...
Public transport is one of the options for the athletes so they don't have to queue for the shuttle bus. You can't just say trains will break down. You could get an accident on the road, or Nicoll Highway could be jammed.
In a statement issued at 9pm yesterday, SDSC president Dr Teo-Koh Sock Miang insisted that during their earlier briefing, team managers were "clearly told" there were different transportation options.
NOT AN INFERIOR RIDE
If you look at just the transportation of (the) MRT from the point of view of fatigue, comfort, I think you cannot score the MRT lower than the bus.
Sailor Jovin Tan, an Asian Para Games champion, is pleased that the confusion has been cleared up.
He said: "I think it will be feasible for athletes if they are taking the train to watch their team-mates in action, rather than to compete."
RESPECTING ATHLETES' DECISION
I won't be disappointed if the athletes don't take the train in the end. It's their choice and we must respect it.
The idea of having para athletes take the train and mingle with the Singapore population stemmed from efforts to bring the Games closer to the people and promote inclusiveness. All 3,000 athletes and officials from 11 countries will be housed at MBS. The hotel is linked to the Circle Line's Bayfront station, three stops from Stadium station.
Athletes will be given Cepas cards with stored value while chaperones will guide them to the venues.
Mr Lim said the participating countries' chefs de mission - some of whom are former para athletes - approved the move at a seminar in August. Local para athletes were supposed to be informed of the decision only at a Team Singapore camp next month.
Although taking the train is optional, not many are sold on the idea. Athletes fretted about having to jostle for space with a rush-hour crowd while lugging bags and equipment - a situation which would affect their competition preparation.
The public also questioned if organisers were being frivolous with the transport planning, citing other ways of building inclusion.
Some wondered if the para athletes were being treated unfairly vis-a-vis the able-bodied ones who featured at June's SEA Games.
Then, some 300 buses were used to transport the 7,000 athletes and officials around Singapore.
Facebook user Low Wai Poon said: "To promote inclusiveness, give free seats to students to enable them to watch disabled athletes in action. Get the athletes to speak in forums to show the public 'disability' cannot stop them from competing. Let the public play games with the athletes and see for themselves, how good the athletes are.
"No need to deprive the athletes (of) free bus transport to (the) Sports Hub."
Mr Lim took pains to point out that the move was in no way meant to be discriminatory.
He said: "I hope the public understands that we are not treating para athletes as second-class citizens.
"If anything, you will see from the facts that we are actually doing more as far as transport operations are concerned."
Jalan Besar GRC MP and president of the Autism Resource Centre Denise Phua said athletes with special needs should be seen and heard in public but any decision should be "athlete-centred" as well.
Speaking during a visit to the Singapore Land Authority yesterday, Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu said the welfare of athletes and officials is the "top concern" and that she wants to meet various stakeholders.
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