No safety guidelines for cheerleading in Singapore

But coaches and cheerleaders say they do take precautions

A University of North Carolina study found that 65.2 per cent of all catastrophic sports injuries occur in cheerleading. -- THE NEW PAPER FILE PHOTO

There are no national safety guidelines for cheerleading in Singapore. And the sport does not have a national association of its own to check whether coaches have the proper training.

But this does not mean safety is not taken seriously, coaches and cheerleaders told The Straits Times yesterday.

The sport has come under scrutiny after Thursday's death of 19-year-old Ngee Ann Polytechnic student Lai Qing Xiang. Two weeks ago, he hit his head on the ground when trying a backflip during cheerleading training. He never regained consciousness.

Questions are now being raised about whether there are enough safety measures during practice.

The sport has not received National Sports Association status from the Singapore National Olympic Council. And without a national governing body, who makes sure that coaches are properly qualified, and have the skill to handle emergencies in what is a fairly dangerous sport?

In 2011, a University of North Carolina study found that 65.2 per cent of all catastrophic sports injuries occur in cheerleading, making it the second most dangerous sport in the US - behind American football. Such figures are not available in Singapore.

Cheerleeding is offered to schools here from primary to junior college level under the Sports Education Programme run by the Ministry of Education (MOE) and Singapore Sports Council.

Currently, only Dion Eng Cheerleading School is endorsed by MOE to provide cheerleading programmes for the schools. Coaches under the programme must have the relevant coaching accreditation and first aid certification.

Cheerleading clubs in tertiary associations and private ones do not come under this framework.

Coaches leading these cheerleading clubs are usually accredited by either the International Federation of Cheerleading, a non-profit federation based in Tokyo, or the International Cheer Union based in the United States.

Two non-profit organisations in Singapore - Cheerleading Association Singapore and Federation of Cheerleading Singapore - organise the accreditation courses here.

When The Straits Times asked cheerleading clubs about their safety measures, most said that stunts are performed on safety mats, and only when spotters are in place.

In the first few training sessions, spotters will learn how to properly catch their teammates when they fall, and flyers - who perform the stunts - will learn how to land, distributing their weight evenly to prevent sprains.

Importantly, teamwork also keeps them safe, with coaches hammering the importance of a support network. Mr Lee Chaang Ru, 30, who has been a coach since 2005, said he can "only be at one place at one time". "It is a shared responsibility to ensure safety," said Mr Lee, who founded cheerleading team Wildcards.

Nanyang Technological University holds an annual inter-hall cheerleading competition.

Student Teng Ying Ying, who is part of her hostel's cheerleading team, said the rule at their practice is that if any part of the flyer's body touches the ground, all those involved in the stunt will have to do 20 push-ups.

The 22-year-old said the punishment serves as a wake-up call to remind them that each fall may be dangerous.

But as teams attempt trickier - and riskier - stunts to keep up with the competition and impress judges, some worry that matters could get out of hand.

Said ex-cheerleader Nur Azlina, who left the sport in 2007: "A lot of cheerleaders nowadays are very ambitious, but they overlook a lot of basic skills and safety features."

The 29-year-old added that local teams are influenced by the daring cheerleaders from Japan and Thailand. But unlike the cheerleaders there, the ones here do not have a gymnastic background.

She also believes there is a lack of professionalism here, given that poorly executed stunts can still look good to the audience.

"It encourages cheerleaders to fool around rather than spending time perfecting one stunt before trying another," she said. "I used to be like that."

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