By the time the SEA Games was officially opened at Hanoi's My Dinh Stadium on Thursday night, Singapore had already clinched seven medals, including a gold for pencak silat exponent Iqbal Abdul Rahman. For Team Singapore, the 31st SEA Games, delayed by half a year because of the Covid-19 outbreak, are a chance to get back in the swim of things. Compared with the 23 athletes who represented Singapore at last year's Tokyo Olympics, a bigger batch of 427 sportsmen are competing in Vietnam. The Games are a good opportunity to blood younger sportsmen. Of the 427 athletes, just under half are aged 22 and younger, and 243 are debutantes. The Games offer these new talents a welcome chance to test their mettle after two years of restrictions, and could pave the way for bigger, more prestigious competitions. The SEA Games will by no means be a walk in the park. These young competitors have to meet some serious expectations.
The Republic has netted substantial medal tallies in previous Games, with the record being 58 gold, 58 silver and 72 bronze medals in Kuala Lumpur in 2017. While this year's contingent is leaner than the 569 athletes at those Games, Team Singapore could potentially earn 45 gold medals. With Singapore poised to host the SEA Games in 2029, it is a good time to rouse more support of regional competitions. They may not possess the blockbuster glamour of the Olympics, but the athletes here have worked hard to earn their places in the arena and for a chance to step up on that podium. Budding athletes now have more of a fighting chance as families are better equipped financially and mentally to support youthful sporting ambitions. Nationwide, there is better sporting infrastructure to scaffold their career development. Much as sporting glory is dependent on individual athletes' performances, it takes an entire village to cheer them on.