Scope for more tiers to judge excellence: Minister Tan

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin taking a wefie with Singapore's SEA Games 10m air rifle team gold medallists (from left) Martina Veloso, Jasmine Ser and Tessa Neo.
Mr Tan Chuan-Jin taking a wefie with Singapore's SEA Games 10m air rifle team gold medallists (from left) Martina Veloso, Jasmine Ser and Tessa Neo.BERITA HARIAN FILE PHOTO

As swimmer Joseph Schooling and a promising crop of sailors remain on course for success at next year's Rio Olympics, Singapore should not forget its athletes in other sports which are still bridging the gap closer to home.

Reflecting on his first year as president of the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC), Mr Tan Chuan-Jin called for a more calibrated approach towards judging different sports - with scope for more tiers of excellence.

"(In) some sports we should strive to compete at the world level," said Mr Tan, who succeeded Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean as SNOC chief last year. "Like our swimmers, some of them are potentially moving to that stage.

"In some sports, we may take longer to move up; for some, we may not quite get to the world-class level. But it doesn't give us as Singaporeans any less pride."

Perhaps this was no more apparent than at last month's SEA Games. The loudest cheers were reserved for Shanti Pereira, who claimed the women's 200m crown to end a 42-year sprint gold drought for the sport - typically not a major medal contributor.

The 18-year-old may not yet be ready to conquer Asia's finest speedsters but Mr Tan noted how "it doesn't mean that we should be proud of ourselves only when our athletes are world-class".

The SNOC held its annual general meeting yesterday which saw the election of national sports association (NSA) representatives Milan Kwee (taekwondo), Juliana Seow (fencing) and Melanie Chew (equestrian). Mr Tan, 46, who is also the Minister for Social and Family Development, will continue his practice of visiting NSAs. He will meet athletes and officials to get a better feel of the situation.

Team Singapore won a record 84 golds at the SEA Games to finish second in the medal table among 11 countries, backed by the emergence of new heroes in wushu, canoeing and floorball. But the Young Lions' failure to reach the football semi-finals - amid a public spat between coaches over tactics and the choice of players - was a sore point.

It is believed there were also disagreements over selection policies in fencing and tennis.

"I don't like it when it affects our athletes," Mr Tan said, referring to feuds within NSAs. "It can be very distracting. You can be in the midst of preparing for these games, and it is not useful at all."

Greater transparency in the running of NSAs, he added, would lead to fewer allegations of bias.

He was impressed by how the sports of swimming, bowling, shooting and sailing were managed by their respective associations .

"I don't know if it is a chicken and egg thing. They are doing well so people want to be involved, sponsors and others," he observed.

Looking ahead, he called on athletes to tap on technology and watch their diet, as the smallest detail could prove decisive.

Further investment in what he calls a "larger ecosystem" in sports will also allow them to remain involved even after retiring.

He said: "While I may be a competitive bowler now, I could come back and work in a different role in the bowling federation, and I can begin to see viable career options.

"And if you have a large enough space, such as providing services to schools, then you can have viable professions which may encourage our athletes to go into sports in a bigger way and for the long haul."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2015, with the headline 'Scope for more tiers to judge excellence: Minister Tan'. Print Edition | Subscribe