Tchoukball hopes for NSA status so it can achieve even more

An attacking player going up for a shot. The ball must hit the frame and bounce outside the 'D' without being caught by the defending team for a point to be scored. Besides getting funds, securing NSA status will give tchoukball more recognition.
An attacking player going up for a shot. The ball must hit the frame and bounce outside the 'D' without being caught by the defending team for a point to be scored. Besides getting funds, securing NSA status will give tchoukball more recognition.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

It is 10 years old this year. And in the decade since it was set up, the Tchoukball Association of Singapore (TBAS) has made several noteworthy strides.

Chief among them is the national men's team being ranked second in the world for four years in a row. The women's team are not far behind either. They have been No. 2 for three years now.

But one thing it has yearned for but not yet achieved is having National Sports Association (NSA) status, which would mean greater access to funding and support.

Now, that dream is closer to becoming reality.

Jeff Ang, general secretary of TBAS, told The Straits Times that Sport Singapore (Sport SG) is "reviewing the idea of us becoming an NSA and hopefully that will come true for us".

"I hope that within the next one year, we (TBAS) will be able to put forth a proper proposal to Sport SG for its consideration... I think we have accomplished many things such as developing the sport at the grassroots level, which has been very positive and widespread."

Indeed. Tchoukball (pronounced chook-ball), a non-contact team sport which originated in Switzerland in the early 1970s, is played by about 2,000 enthusiasts on a regular basis these days. That is double the number in 2009.

The annual National Primary Schools Tchoukball Championships, which started in 2008 and is now sponsored by the Singapore Press Holdings Foundation, has also seen a 550 per cent jump in participation - from 13 teams in 2008, to 71 teams in 2015.

The national team have also benefited from this growth. Ang noted: "When we first started in 2006, there were only seven men and four women in the team. Today, we have at least 150 people who play the sport competitively and also at an elite level."

The national Under-18 boys' team are world youth champions, having toppled mighty Chinese Taipei last year on home soil out of nine participating teams.

At the senior level, both the men's and women's teams bagged silver medals at last year's World Tchoukball Championships, out of a total of 16 teams for men and six for women.

Such exponential success is hard to come by, especially since the sport was introduced to Singapore only 10 years ago.

But Ang attributes these achievements to the amount of overseas exposure the teams receive, with TBAS organising a week-long training tour to world No. 1 Chinese Taipei every year.

Such trips however, cost a minimum of $700, including airfare and accommodation, which players fork out from their own pockets as the TBAS does not receive funding from the government since it is not an NSA.

This affects players like Nico Quek, who had to juggle a part-time job as a tchoukball coach while studying at Singapore Polytechnic to fund his trip after his father was unemployed for two years, leaving his mother to single-handedly support him and his two siblings.

Quek, 23, who is now undergoing national service, said: "I tried my best to earn as much money as I could by being a coach and I usually earn about $45 an hour for a three-hour training session.

"Even though it is rather expensive, I always try to go for such training tours because I think I have really improved since I joined in 2010.

"If tchoukball were to become an NSA, it would not only help relieve my financial burden but at the same time, it could also help the sport grow."

That said, Ang insists that funding is not the main reason why he is pushing for the sport to become an NSA but rather, he is more concerned about his players getting due recognition.

He said: "The Ministry of Education (MOE) requires the sport to be an NSA before it gives it greater recognition such as awarding students with the colours award or putting it under the Singapore Schools Sports Council's sporting calendar."

He was referring to the colours award, which is given to students for contributions in representing the school team across 28 sports that are currently in the sporting calendar.

Added Ang: "Schools want to support the sport ... but they don't want to invest more resources such as training venues, allocation of teachers or budget for coaches and equipment because it is not recognised as a school sport.

"If we acquire NSA status, MOE will be more willing to include it in the sporting calendar and schools will also be more willing to allow it as a CCA. This will, in turn, help the sport to flourish, which is our main aim in becoming an NSA."

Such sentiments are shared by 19-year-old player and ITE graduate Muhammad Khairin, who said: "Being an NSA will help players because it will be an official sport, and can then be used to gain direct admission into the schools that we want, just like other sports out there."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 26, 2016, with the headline 'Tchoukball hopes for NSA status so it can achieve even more'. Print Edition | Subscribe