Sports facilities squeeze

SportSG providing more pathways

SportSG chief executive officer Lim Teck Yin denied that he is picking up the slack for torpid NSAs.
SportSG chief executive officer Lim Teck Yin denied that he is picking up the slack for torpid NSAs. PHOTO: ST FILE

CEO Lim stresses ActiveSG academies assist NSAs with their good reach and initiatives

It is a grassroots initiative that aims to spawn 25 sports academies by 2021 and a project which boasts some of the games' biggest names.

Local sports governing body Sport Singapore is clearly pulling out all the stops for its ActiveSG academies, a grassroots initiative which aims to provide quality and affordable training programmes in football, athletics, basketball and tennis.

Yet, while the initiative has been hailed for its reach, there are those who wonder if SportSG is spoon-feeding some of its national sports associations (NSAs) by taking over a basic and essential function - that of encouraging more to pick up the sport.

After all, of the four sports under the ActiveSG umbrella, football and tennis are two of the three sports which failed to win a medal at last year's home SEA Games. Petanque was the other sport which did not garner any medal.

Speaking to The Sunday Times, SportSG chief executive officer Lim Teck Yin denied that he is picking up the slack for torpid NSAs.

He said: "This is not something meant to replace NSAs. ActiveSG's starting point is not driven by the need to have a national team pipeline. It is to reach as many people as possible. The market out there is too big... no single entity can reach all."

He added that ActiveSG aims to "demonstrate good design and execution of programmes" for all to see.

The former national water polo player conceded that he cannot force NSAs to run what appears to be a beneficial project, even if SportSG provides logistical support.

"I can't tell an NSA to do things they don't want to do. They are independent societies and non-government organisations. We can always have that discussion but a lot depends on their ability to (implement the project) over the long term," said Lim.

"Maybe they feel they won't survive the next elections so they pursue (other objectives)."

A look at the ActiveSG academies structured pathway also suggest it is more than a project aimed solely at increasing participation.

The Athletics Club, for instance, boasts two detailed programmes targeting those aged six to 12 as well as those from 13 to 24.

They train thrice weekly, while those in the older group get to specialise in sprints, middle and long distance and field events (jumps and throws).

Crucially, by including athletes up to 24 years old, the programme allows athletes to continue training beyond school and national service.

In addition, the household names roped in for the academies, such as former national footballer Aleksandar Duric and former national basketball coach Neo Beng Siang, also hint at the project's high-performance ambitions.

But Lim played down all these suggestions. He said: "The first objective is to go for respected coaches that inspire confidence in parents. The pathways are for athletes to enjoy sport by improving their skills... (so they can) continue to play at a reasonably high level after they leave school."

He said ActiveSG will work with NSAs should there be talented athletes in their programmes, but they will "cross the bridge when we get there".

ActiveSG was first mooted in March 2013 as a key recommendation of Vision 2030, a joint project led by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and SportSG. Then it was called the Super Sports Club.

Whatever its aims are, observers are happy more is done to plug the gaping holes left by some NSAs.

A national track and field athlete said: "After I was done with school I tried to find out how to join the national set-up, but there was no national team.

"For many athletes, it was entirely self-driven and I was lucky to have a coach who trained me for free. I saw many talented athletes who did not make it.

"But now we are going to see the results of building up the base, from having a grassroots programme to a high performance team, rather than hoping for one-off stars to pop up."

Former Singapore football captain and coach Seak Poh Leong said: "Building a bigger base of players is the fundamental role of an NSA. Our national team is struggling now because the pool of players has shrunk over the years.

"If SportSG thinks the Football Association of Singapore is not doing enough and wants to run (the ActiveSG academy), that's okay, as long as there is no duplication."

Former national swimmer Mark Chay, who used to be chief executive of the Singapore Hockey Federation, said: "ActiveSG may ruffle a few feathers with this but that's only because they are making an impact on the scene.

"Your pipeline is your lifeline. If you don't have it, in two to three years you won't get anywhere.

"This initiative provides a proof of concept and hopefully sets the standard for some NSAs."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 18, 2016, with the headline 'SportSG providing more pathways'. Print Edition | Subscribe