SBA chief has big shoes to fill

Lee Yi Shyan (left) handing over the SBA's reins to Tan Kian Chew. The latter is no stranger, having held two other posts before, and is set to keep his predecessor's policy of grooming youth rather than importing talent.
Lee Yi Shyan (left) handing over the SBA's reins to Tan Kian Chew. The latter is no stranger, having held two other posts before, and is set to keep his predecessor's policy of grooming youth rather than importing talent.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Ex-official Tan will tap corporate backing further to develop base and produce champs

Dressed in an inconspicuous short-sleeved shirt, it is hard to pick Tan Kian Chew out from a room full of local badminton's movers and shakers, many of them donning blazers yesterday morning at the Singapore Badminton Association (SBA)'s annual general meeting.

But the 62-year-old is no stranger to the sport, just as he is a well-known figure in the corporate world as the Singapore Labour Foundation's chief executive.

Tan, whose bid for the SBA presidency yesterday was uncontested, has previously served as its vice-president (2000-2006) and secretary-general (2006-2010). He takes over from East Coast MP Lee Yi Shyan, who stepped down after serving the maximum of four two-year terms.

"I'm not new to the SBA," he said after the conclusion of the meeting at the Chinese Swimming Club. "I've been involved and served in various capacities over the last 20 years. This is my second 'tour of duty'."

Tan also injected humour in his first address to affiliates yesterday as he urged for their partnership.

PYRAMID EFFECT

You cannot just groom a few players. You need the whole industry to produce good championship players.

TAN KIAN CHEW, new SBA president, on the importance of a healthy base of badminton players in Singapore.

He joked that his initial "relief" at running uncontested turned to realisation upon hearing outgoing president Lee's speech and summary of his eight years in office.

STARTING FROM BOTTOM

It's very important for us to look after our local talent and I really want to help the association.

TAN, on nurturing current local talents.

"Now I know why I'm the only one," he said, evoking laughs across the room.

NUMBERS GAME

First we'd like to promote the sport well. Once we have many people keen on the game, I believe we can produce many good players.

TAN, on getting enough Singaporeans to play badminton

"The management committee under the leadership of Lee Yi Shyan has achieved so much. It's a hard act to follow."

Under Lee - who remains in the SBA as adviser - the association has inked several high-profile sponsorship deals and posted a handful of notable achievements in high performance.

This included a four-year deal in 2010 worth $8.8 million in cash and kind from Chinese sports brand Li-Ning. Property developer OUE also signed on as title sponsors of the Singapore Open in 2014, signing a new deal that year for another three editions until 2017 in a partnership worth $2.2 million.

But Tan, who spent 23 years at NTUC FairPrice before stepping down as its group chief executive at the end of last year, seemed quietly confident of continuing garnering corporate support.

He said: "I have some contacts, of course, and hopefully they will come in to support.

"I also have to depend on some committee members and their connections to get some local companies in to help. If the game is popular, companies will be keen to come in."

Tan made several mentions of his hope to keep badminton one of the most popular - if not the most keenly-played - sports in Singapore. To make that happen, it must remain affordable and courts as accessible as possible to enthusiasts.

Only with high participation can Singapore unearth more champions and tackle what he called a "chicken and egg" issue of balancing a healthy base and a group of elites that excel on the world stage.

He said: "You cannot just groom a few players. You need the whole industry to produce good championship players."

The meeting also saw the election of four new members to the management committee, including 1983 SEA Games champion Wong Shoon Keat and 1992 Olympian Hamid Khan.

Wong, whose sons Derek and Jason both play for the national team, said his unique role as former player and now a coach and parent to national players has allowed him to identify needs in youth development that he hopes to help address.

He told The Sunday Times: "It's tough for Singapore to compete with other countries. I think it's very important for us to look after our local talent and I really want to help the association."

Tan, meanwhile, is likely to continue with Lee's inward focus on grooming talent, rather than look for foreign supplements.

He said: "First we'd like to promote the sport well. Once we have many people keen onthe game, I believe we can produce many good players."

He might have arrived yesterday with little fanfare and was appointed with no surprises, but by the end of the meeting, it was surely a blazer - with the SBA crest embroidered on it - that he wore as he left.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 12, 2016, with the headline 'SBA chief has big shoes to fill'. Print Edition | Subscribe