Parliament: Another $25m in Covid-19 relief moves for S'pore sports industry

The Sports Resilience Package will come in the form of operating grants and capability development for the industry. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG
APS Swim School, run by local swimming legend Ang Peng Siong, is one of the private sports academies/clubs that will benefit from the $25m Sports Resilience Package. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - For almost three months, there was hardly a ripple at the pools at APS Swim School. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the swimming academy run by swimming icon Ang Peng Siong had, as the 57-year-old described it, "zero revenue" from March to May.

Government relief measures meant he benefited from a rental waiver over his school's Farrer Park Swimming Complex base, but operational costs from maintaining the pool still ran up a five-figure bill. As a result, APS implemented a 20 per cent wage cut for all its 15 full-time staff for two months.

With measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 eased since June, the school is able to go back to earning about 75 per cent of the revenue it did pre-pandemic, and wages of its staff have also increased to within 10 per cent of the original sums, but the struggle to stay afloat in these challenging times, remains.

Thankfully for Mr Ang and his team, more government support is in the offing for private sports academies and clubs like APS.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong on Thursday (Oct 15) announced in Parliament a Sports Resilience Package (SRP) that will see a further $25 million pumped into the sports sector as it deals with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

This will come in the form of operating grants amounting to $13.5 million to help businesses critical to the sports ecosystem offset operating costs from October 2020 to March 2021, and $11.5 million in capability development for the industry.

"We don't have the details yet but it is definitely something we look forward to," said Mr Ang.

"The sports and arts industry is something that, if you look in totality, is the soul and essence of the nation."

The criteria and processes for the SRP operating grant will be announced by national sports agency Sport Singapore (SportSG) next month, although an MCCY spokesman said that businesses that "contribute to building our athlete pipelines", such as private academies and clubs like APS, private league operators and facility operators, will be eligible.

MCCY will provide a grant equivalent to about 25 per cent of each business' total operating expenses, capped at $15,000 a month.

The SRP will take government support for the sports sector to $50 million.

In June, some $25 million in relief measures for the industry was also announced through the Enterprise Innovation & Capability Grant, Active Enabler Programme, creation of temporary jobs, ActiveSG Circle, and other digital content initiatives and training opportunities.

Mr Tong said: "Our sports ecosystem... is made up of a diverse range of different institutions, including the National Sport Associations (NSAs), academies and clubs that are run privately, private leagues, sports facility operators, freelance coaches and many others.

"All of them play an important role in our collective efforts to build a strong pipeline of athletes and to mould and shape (them), supporting them on their quest for competitive success in the international arena."

The criteria and processes for the SRP operating grant will be announced by national sports agency Sport Singapore (SportSG) in November, although a spokesman for the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth said businesses that "contribute to building our athlete pipelines", such as private academies and clubs, private league operators and facility operators, will be eligible.

The ministry will provide a grant equivalent to about 25 per cent of each business' total operating expenses, capped at $15,000 a month.

Noting the impact the pandemic has had on such operators, Mr Tong added: "We do not want these operators to be a casualty of the pandemic. Our sporting landscape, with its broad spectrum of different options, will be the poorer if that happens."

As for support measures to enhance capability development, the Blended Initiative - launched in July to help events management companies and organisers adopt digitalisation as a core strategy - will be expanded to include private academies and clubs.

Support will also be provided for businesses and self-employed people in the sports industry to grow digital capabilities in areas like content development, while sports coaches can receive a training allowance of $10 an hour to take up CoachSG courses. Level two and three coaches can also apply to participate in CoachSG's structured mentorship programme.

Tricia Fok, who has been in events management for 21 years, ran a virtual version of the Yogafest event with the support of government grants through the Active Enabler Programme.

While her team ran into technical issues, such as participants not being able to log in on the first day, the 43-year-old said she and her team appreciated the opportunity to pick up new skills and diversify their approach.

"It was a steep learning curve, but I would not say it was extremely hard," said Fok, who is managing director of The Live Group and TLG Festivals.

National Under-19 floorball coach Sonia Chia shared a similar outlook. The 36-year-old, who also coaches Catholic High, Eunoia Junior College and Nanyang Technical University's floorball teams, co-developed online materials for CoachSG's home-based learning packages.

Under the new measures, she will be eligible for allowances if she continues to attend CoachSG workshops. On facing challenges of coaching digitally, Chia said: "I saw the problems as opportunities to be creative and to present the sport to my players in a different way.

"As coaches a lot of times we advocate to our athletes the importance of the right mindset, perspective and adapting, and this (digitalisation) is a chance for us to do the same."

The Government invests $400 million annually towards sports and sports development in Singapore. This includes $70 million annually in the High Performance Sports system - which includes the spexScholarship - to support the development of national athletes and NSAs, as well as investing in new and existing public sports infrastructure under the Sports Facilities Master Plan.

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