SINGAPORE - Ten sports will be offered to some 500 participants by the new Para Sport Academy set up from this month, with the development welcomed by coaches and athletes from the community.
Plans for the academy were announced on Thursday (March 10) by Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth Eric Chua, who was speaking during the debate on the ministry's budget.
"The Para Sport Academy will drive the integration of disability and mainstream sports in our ActiveSG academies and clubs," said Mr Chua.
"They will also provide aspiring para-athletes a clear pathway from recreational participation to high-performance sport.
"We hope the Para Sport Academy will be an enabling platform through which more persons with disabilities (PWDs) can build their self-confidence and reach their fullest potential. It is also our ambition to grow a new generation of para-athletes who will go on to represent Singapore."
Mr Chua will chair an advisory panel for the academy, which aims to enhance the ecosystem that supports disabled athletes. The panel will feature members from the various stakeholders - athletes, coaches, volunteers, technical officials, sports medicine personnel as well as companies - to ensure comprehensive representation.
The first phase of the academy's roll-out will feature cerebral palsy football, para canoe, para athletics, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair tennis and para swimming.
Four other sports - para badminton, para table tennis, wheelchair rugby and para (deaf, blind and special needs) football - will roll out progressively from April.
Mr Sjaiful Sjahrin, president of the Wheelchair Tennis Association, is hopeful that the Para Sport Academy will encourage more PWDs to take up sports like wheelchair tennis.
"Getting tennis balls, coaches and setting up programmes is the easy part," he said. "Reaching out to potential players and trying to convince them this is a sport they might want to try and juggle work or school commitments with, is the hard part."
National Cerebral Palsy footballer Khairul Anwar hopes that participation across all para sports will grow with the setting up of the academy.
"With this, parents will hopefully have more encouragement and confidence to bring their kids to experience the adventure of sport," said the 36-year-old.
Football coach Arumugam Kaliappan is hopeful more coaches will come on board to work with PWDs.
The 47-year-old, a recipient of the Singapore Coach Medallion Award in 2019, has been working with autistic youth in the ActiveSG programme, and believes that the academy will help lift para sport in Singapore in the long run.
He said: "Hopefully Singapore can develop more para athletes and maybe even give them career opportunities (after their competitive careers) in areas like sport administration, similar to the opportunities able-bodied athletes are beginning to get too."
In his speech, Mr Chua noted that over 18,000 PWDs have benefited from the Disability Sports Masterplan since it was launched in 2016. The plan has seen a widening of the base of participation in para sport, greater inclusion through shared sporting experiences, and made facilities more accessible, with more coaches and teachers adopting the necessary skills to teach disability sport.