Parliament: MP Lee Bee Wah calls for greater effort to help Singapore become a sporting nation

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Joseph Schooling hosting a meet-and-greet session with national aquatic athletes at the OCBC Aquatic Centre on Aug 16.
Olympic gold medalist swimmer Joseph Schooling hosting a meet-and-greet session with national aquatic athletes at the OCBC Aquatic Centre on Aug 16.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - MP Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) on Tuesday (Sept 13) urged for a greater concerted effort from stakeholders to help Singapore become a sporting nation.

In an adjournment motion in Parliament, which allowed her to speak for up to 20 minutes, Ms Lee said while progress has been made, there is still "quite some way" to go.

Ms Lee, who was president of the Singapore Table Tennis Association from 2008 to 2014, cited some examples.

That Singaporeans very nearly missed the opportunity to watch the recent Olympics live, she said, is "unthinkable". A deal for live telecasts went through only on the day of the opening of the Olympics on Aug 5, after both national broadcaster Mediacorp and rights holder Dentsu made compromises.

The deal is believed to be worth about $3.2 million, down from the reported previous asking price of US$6 million (S$8.16 million).

"We as a nation sending athletes to compete at the Olympics were not prepared to fork out money for live telecasts. Yet we proclaimed we know the importance and the value of sports in unifying people, in inspiring people," she said.

"An opportunity to unite the nation should not be left to a commercial decision. I hope that in future, the relevant bodies... can pull their resources together and prepare their negotiations far ahead of time, allocate the budget to ensure we are guaranteed a contract to broadcast major sporting events live, including all major Games that our athletes take part in."

Ms Lee also called for the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) to give greater support for national service deferment for elite male athletes.

Olympic champion Joseph Schooling and Quah Zheng Wen received long-term deferment to help them prepare for the 2016 Olympics. Following his gold medal feat, Schooling received approval for deferment until the 2020 Games.

In response, MCCY Minister Grace Fu - who had previously said the negotiation of broadcast rights fees should be a commercial decision - reiterated her position.

"We are also mindful of the escalating fees for broadcasting such events," said Ms Fu.

"It would be unwise to take the position that we should have live telecasts regardless of cost, and for the Government to underwrite any amount demanded by rights owners. This would be a poor position to take, particularly while the rights are being negotiated."

Ms Fu called for companies to play a growing role, investing in and creating employment opportunities for national athletes.

She said: "We hope that with the support of all stakeholders, we can develop a healthy ecosystem and inspire Singaporeans to live better through sport."