Olympics: Team Singapore well protected on and off the field in Brazil

Ho Cheng Kwee (left), Singapore's Paralympics chef de mission and Low Teo Ping, who will lead the Olympic team, with special items such as arm and calf sleeves, insect repellent and permethrin solution.
Ho Cheng Kwee (left), Singapore's Paralympics chef de mission and Low Teo Ping, who will lead the Olympic team, with special items such as arm and calf sleeves, insect repellent and permethrin solution. ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

A "bag of tricks" will be among the most important pieces of "equipment" each Team Singapore member will have at the Olympics and Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.

It includes arm and calf sleeves, insect repellent and permethrin solution - a man-made chemical also used by the Singapore Armed Forces as insecticide - for athletes to treat their clothing.

All are items not typically issued for athletes at major Games but with fears of the mosquito-borne Zika virus and concerns over high levels of pollution in Rio's Guanabara Bay, officials are leaving nothing to chance as they bid to keep Team Singapore fit and safe in Brazil over the next two months.

This has included shipping in military-tested mosquito repellent from the United States, treating clothing with insecticide, to getting athletes to bathe in anti-bacterial body wash.

Low Teo Ping, the Olympic chef de mission, said yesterday: "The challenges have been plentiful, with all the issues concerning security, health, the time difference and how far it is from Singapore."

Added the veteran official, who has led teams at the SEA, Asian and Commonwealth Games: "If you put them together, this is a Games quite unlike previous Games I've been involved in, especially in the lead-up."

His counterpart for the Paralympic Games, Ho Cheng Kwee, added: "It's not one single thing that we're concerned about - it's a multitude of things. That's why we've put a lot of thought into preparation."

Both men were offering updates on Team Singapore's preparations a month before the Olympic cauldron is lit at the Maracana Stadium.

The athletes and para-athletes will also have vaccinations before making the 29-hour journey to Rio de Janeiro.

In Rio, their rooms in the Olympic village will have diffusers with citronella or lemongrass essential oils to provide added protection against insects.

The sailors and rowers have been instructed to be on antibiotics for the duration of their exposure to water, as well as bathe in anti-bacterial body wash daily during the Olympics. Preventive measures will continue for two weeks upon their return to Singapore.

"We don't normally do this for other Games. But we have a responsibility with regards to our Team Singapore athletes and officials going to Rio," said Low, adding that there has also been close cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Singapore embassy in Brazil, as well as other security agencies, to ensure safety concerns are also addressed.

The contingent has been briefed and reminded to travel from "bubble to bubble" in Rio - within the different clusters of Olympic venues - where security is expected to be much higher. But the key is in inculcating in athletes and officials the importance of being responsible and staying vigilant.

Low said: "It is the preparation and the need to inculcate this sense of responsibility on the part of the athletes and officials.

"We've been talking to the athletes and team managers, emphasising the need for them to stay on guard."

Para-swimmer Theresa Goh said the Rio Games have not been any more worrying than the previous three Paralympics she competed in - London 2012, Beijing 2008 and Athens 2004.

She said: "I haven't really had time to worry about anything besides training. It's definitely at the back of my mind but I trust our officials and if they say it's safe to go, then I'll go."

Ho said: "The athletes are counting down to the day of their events rather than thinking about the issues. Our message to them is, 'Do your training and preparation. We will take care of the rest'."

Singapore will send at least 25 athletes across seven sports to the Aug 5-21 Olympics. The Paralympics, which take place from Sept 7-18, will feature a record 11 Singapore para-athletes in five sports.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 05, 2016, with the headline 'Well protected on and off the field in Brazil'. Print Edition | Subscribe