SportSG turns spotlight on local sporting heritage as it approaches 50th year

The team from Sport Singapore's Sport Heritage Division (from left) Deputy Director Nick Aplin, Assistant Director of Strategic Communications and Marketing Cindy Ong, Executive Henry Choong, and Assistant Director of Education and Outreach Teresa Teo Guttensohn. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Stored in two locked rooms in the Singapore Sports Hub are several boxes comprising items that tell of the nation's sporting history.

Among them are old programmes, souvenir magazines, newspaper cuttings, books and memorabilia from various meets over the years.

Together, they serve as a treasure trove of research material for national sports governing body Sport Singapore's (SportSG) newly formed Sport Heritage Division, which has set out to document and promote the nation's sporting heritage.

This new arm will hold an exhibition, public lectures and engagements with schools ahead of SportsSG's 50th anniversary next year.

Seeds for the new division - launched on Jan 1 - were sown when sport historian Nick Aplin, 69, was tasked by SportSG in 2020 to write a book documenting its history.

The former National Institute of Education senior lecturer taught various sport-related topics there since the mid-1980s.

In the course of his writing, Dr Aplin and SportSG realised that his research could act as a foundation for more education and outreach opportunities, and three more members were added to the team to this end.

SportSG chief executive Lim Teck Yin said that with the new division, SportSG will "fuel the learning opportunities, appreciation and affinity for sport in Singapore and its values, and engender recognition and pride for our nation's achievements".

Ms Teresa Teo Guttensohn, 59, the team's assistant director overseeing education and outreach, said that sporting heritage comprises not just its pioneers and champions, but also the everyday experiences of Singaporeans.

"Every family spends time together doing sports and recreation, and these are some of the best memories that many of us have from our childhoods," she added.

The team hopes to work on an islandwide heritage trail that features some of Singapore's oldest and most iconic sports facilities. Heritage galleries may be set up at some sites.

Facilities that may feature in the trail include a building retained from the former Yan Kit Swimming Pool, which was Singapore's second public swimming complex; Toa Payoh Stadium, Sports Hall and Swimming Complex, which hosted the 1973 South-east Asian Peninsular Games; and Queenstown Sports Complex, which was one of the first to be built in a public housing estate.

"These sports structures and stadiums were built in tandem with the rest of the nation, and are part of Singaporeans' memories," said Ms Guttensohn.

Some of these sites will be featured in a new microsite being developed, along with content covering local sporting history, personalities, competitions and communities. 

National swimmer Toh Wei Soong, who in 2019 interviewed generations of athletes while directing a documentary film about the sporting heritage of Farrer Park, said many had stories that up till then had been left untold. 

The 23-year-old hopes the new division would be able to capture such stories to inspire current and future athletes. 

“Singapore has a number of older athletes who have flown our flag proudly over the past decades,” he added.

“I hope the new division can prioritise connecting generations of athletes, as I believe it is our responsibility as current athletes and inheritors of past legacies to pay homage to the generations before, lest we become forgotten by future Singaporeans too.” 

The team will also look into the conservation of structures of sporting heritage significance, and hopes to partner other government agencies, as well as non-governmental organisations in its outreach efforts.

For one, it will integrate its plans with the National Heritage Board's next five-year plan launching in 2023, which outlines strategies for the heritage and museum sector.

But for now, Dr Aplin is focused on writing two books - one commemorating SportSG's 50 years, to be published next year, and another that will serve as a prologue and is slated for release this year.

He has been sifting through the many boxes that the team has inherited, including others kept beyond i the two storerooms that he showed The Straits Times.

Among his prized finds so far are copies of The Sportsman, a Singapore journal from the 1930s, as well as Minute Books from the Singapore Hockey Association dating from 1946 and photo albums compiled by the National Sports Promotion Board in 1971.

"Hopefully, I will make discoveries that enrich our understanding of sport, and be a catalyst for further research in the future," Dr Aplin said.

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