Singapore's largest parkour event held despite obstacles

A parkour practitioner leaping across the waist-high brick walls at the "Bedok Maze" during the Lion City Gathering last month.
A parkour practitioner leaping across the waist-high brick walls at the "Bedok Maze" during the Lion City Gathering last month. PHOTO: KOH CHEN PIN

The Lion City Gathering (LCG) is Singapore's largest parkour event, with participants from around the world taking part in the increasingly popular extreme sport.

But this year's event took place with no green light from the authorities, a string of complaints from residents and three police visits.

The event, which took place from Jan 29 to Jan 31, kicked off at the "Bedok Maze", a garden as big as a basketball court with waist-high walls. Taking part were 140 traceurs, practitioners of parkour who must get from one point to another as quickly as possible, jumping over obstacles and climbing walls.

More than half were foreigners from countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia and Britain.

Organiser Koh Chen Pin, 22, approached a town council and two community centres last year for permission to hold the event, but failed to get it.

"I went along with the event... because people had already booked flights. I had to try," said Mr Koh, who organised it with friends.

The police tried to disperse the group on the event's first day in Bedok, but the practitioners moved on to Clementi and Bishan the following days. At each estate, residents called the police, worried about the stunts and complaining about the noise.

Still, the event continued, said Mr Koh. He described the gathering as "one of the biggest in Asia".

His failure to obtain permission signals a lack of acceptance and understanding of the sport here, he said. One day before the event, police and Singapore Civil Defence Force officers were called to a parkour playground on the rooftop of People's Park Complex.

The worried caller had thought that a traceur, who was perched near the edge of the roof to take photographs, was going to commit suicide. After the misunderstanding, the building's management, Lepark, wanted the parkour playground to be moved. Now, Singapore's parkour community is raising funds to move its gear, which includes metal scaffolding and wooden boxes, from the place.

Mr Koh said he made every effort to get permission to hold this year's LCG, even visiting Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, who is an MP for East Coast GRC, at a Meet-the-People Session last November. But in an e-mail to Mr Koh, East Coast Town Council cited an incident at last year's inaugural LCG, when two traceurs trespassed on the roof of a block of Housing Board flats. This resulted in a police investigation, the town council told The Sunday Times, and the request for this year's event was turned down for safety and security reasons.

A staff member at Bishan North Community Centre told The Sunday Times it was "anticipating a lot of complaints" and rejected Mr Koh's application to hold the event in the area this year.

However, Mr Koh said: "This year, we were very strict and there were no incidents."

The event was free to join and funds were raised by selling merchandise. Permits were needed if the event was to get sponsors, which it failed to do.

"That's the only way we can grow the event and the sport," said Mr Koh, adding that he had people trained in first aid on stand-by and drivers to take injured traceurs to hospital if needed.

Several residents said they were not bothered by the event. "It's just young people having fun," said Mr Jas Taib, 30, who works in the food and beverage industry and lives near the "Bedok Maze". "Maybe some people might be worried their kids will imitate them."

Mr Derrick Siu, founder of parkour academy Superfly Monkey Dragons, said traceurs spend years honing their skills before attempting the stunts. He said: "To someone who doesn't do the sport, it might look dangerous, but that's the same as saying gymnastics at a very high level looks dangerous."

He added that awareness about parkour is growing. There are an estimated 300 practitioners here.

Jurong GRC MP Tan Wu Meng said there is room for parkour in Singapore, adding: "It's a matter of planning and engaging everyone early on... to help the event go ahead in a way that is as true to the spirit of the sport as possible, and yet (is) safe for participants and the public."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 07, 2016, with the headline Singapore's largest parkour event held despite obstacles. Subscribe