Use of public transport to ferry para athletes great idea but timing may be off

Nurulasyiqah Mohd Taha, a full-time boccia athlete who has spinal muscular atrophy, competing at last year's Asean Para Games in Myanmar, where she won two gold medals. She hopes for some leeway from the organisers if athletes are delayed while takin
Nurulasyiqah Mohd Taha, a full-time boccia athlete who has spinal muscular atrophy, competing at last year's Asean Para Games in Myanmar, where she won two gold medals. She hopes for some leeway from the organisers if athletes are delayed while taking public transport.PHOTO: SINGAPORE DISABILITY SPORT COUNCIL

Good for Para Games athletes to use MRT but congestion and delays need to be considered

The use of public transport to ferry athletes at the upcoming Asean Para Games in Singapore is a step towards fostering inclusiveness but the move should not be to their sporting detriment.

Athletes, officials and general commuters told The Straits Times that organisers meant well in encouraging the competitors to take the MRT from the Games Village at Marina Bay Sands to the Singapore Sports Hub in Kallang.

Eight of the 15 sports will be contested there.

RELIABILITY ISSUES

It's a nightmare for athletes if the trains were to break down or we can't make it on time.

EDWIN KHOO, national wheelchair basketball player

EQUAL TREATMENT

From another point of view, there can be no better way for us to show that we are just like the normal man or woman on the street, trying to find our way on public transport.

KELVIN PUNG, para-badminton player, who supports the decision

 
 

But they felt other factors such as the timeliness of trains, and how athletes will be affected by the extra travelling time and distance as compared to taking dedicated shuttles direct to the venues' doorstep, should have been considered as well.

Some 3,000 athletes and officials from 11 countries are expected at the Dec 3-9 extravaganza.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one Singapore team manager said: "If it is a social experiment to use the MRT, it is the absolute wrong time to do it when we have guests in town.

"Some athletes are in the 'zone' and want their privacy before going for competition.

"And can you imagine how those who just lost will feel on the train ride back, especially if it's crowded and they have to wait?"

Lawyer Steven Phua concurred.

The 35-year-old, a frequent passenger on the Circle Line that the athletes will be travelling on, said: "I feel bad for the athletes because able-bodied people already face issues getting on the train during peak times.

"It is the organisers' responsibility to ensure that the athletes reach the venues in the best possible way so that they can show their best to the fans."

Athletes and officials taking the train will be given Cepas cards with stored value and have chaperones accompanying them to the competition venues.

National wheelchair basketball player Edwin Khoo said he will have to re-jig his schedule to factor in the unpredictability of taking public transport.

"It's a nightmare for athletes if the trains were to break down or we can't make it on time," said the 59-year-old. "Taking public transport may jeopardise our game because without chartered transport, the responsibility lies on the athletes to be punctual and we have to plan much earlier to reach the venue on time."

However, not all were critical of the idea.

Nurulasyiqah Mohd Taha, who won Singapore's first-ever boccia gold at the 2014 Asean Para Games in Myanmar, believes "it's something different" in the playbook to promote integration between para-athletes and the public.

"If we are late for events because of the train, I hope organisers take this into consideration," said the 30-year-old, who has a degenerative neuromuscular disease.

In such a case, Mr Baey Yam Keng, Parliamentary Secretary (Culture, Community and Youth) said the organisers should consider contingency plans as a delay "seriously affects the performance or timeliness of the athletes".

Nonetheless, para-badminton player Kelvin Pung views the exercise as one where disabled athletes can prove their independence.

The 2013 Para-Badminton World Championships bronze medallist said: "If we have a bus for all athletes to get to the venue, that's obviously better.

"From another point of view, there can be no better way for us to show that we are just like the normal man or woman on the street, trying to find our way on public transport."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2015, with the headline 'Great idea but timing may be off'. Print Edition | Subscribe