SINGAPORE - Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong on Tuesday (Oct 5) moved a motion in Parliament to honour Team Singapore athletes who competed at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.
In his address, he also reaffirmed the Government's commitment to supporting and enhancing sports in Singapore at all levels, including disability sports.
The issue of monetary rewards for Paralympians was in the spotlight recently after swimmer Yip Pin Xiu won two gold medals at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
Each win will earn her a $200,000 reward, which is a fifth of the payout for an Olympic gold.
After her wins in the women's S2 50m and 100m backstroke in Tokyo, Ms Yip and other members of the para-sports fraternity called for parity in the amounts of cash incentives for medallists at the Paralympics.
This was echoed by former diplomat Tommy Koh in an opinion piece published in The Straits Times.
The topic also evoked a strong response from Singaporeans who shared their views on the ST Forum page and on social media, with some opposing the call for equal cash rewards on the basis of the narrower field of competition.
Mr Tong touched on how some MPs had also inquired about this disparity in Parliament.
He said the private award schemes are managed by the relevant sports bodies.
The Major Games Award Programme (MAP) for able-bodied athletes is managed by the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC), while the Athletes' Achievement Awards (AAA) for para-athletes is managed by the Singapore National Paralympic Council (SNPC).
The Tote Board is the primary sponsor for both programmes, which also feature contributions from the private sector.
The award amounts offered under both schemes are raised and determined by SNOC and SNPC, along with their sponsors.
Individually, the awards under each scheme were tiered based on the standard, size and field of competition for each major games, Mr Tong said.
"The (difference) in cash quantums does not reflect how the Government values our para-athletes vis-a-vis our able-bodied athletes," he stressed.
"In our eyes, they are all Team Singapore athletes, and each athlete, abled or disabled, has his or her own intrinsic value, which we recognise and appreciate."
He added that the SNPC is working on enhancing the cash awards within the AAA framework.
"They have already had discussions with a few entities to do so," he said.
"I have discussed these efforts with President SNPC, Professor Teo-Koh (Sock Miang), on several occasions, and will continue to support their engagement with corporate entities and private funders towards this objective.
"SNPC will announce the outcome of their efforts in due course."
Circling back to his original motion, Mr Tong thanked Singapore's national athletes for "flying our flag so high, and with such distinction at Tokyo 2020".
"We congratulate them for their exceptional performances, their indomitable fighting spirit," he said.
"They gave it their all, and left nothing behind. Their accomplishments brought cheer and joy to our nation and lifted our spirits during what is perhaps one of the most challenging periods in Singapore's history.
"More importantly, your efforts inspired and united Singaporeans from all walks as they supported your Olympic and Paralympic journey.
"Just as the greats who have come before them, these men and women have made many personal sacrifices to carry our country's hopes and aspirations to the very pinnacle of sports.
"These are also the same men and women who have and will continue to inspire generations of athletes after them to rise up, stand on their shoulders to reach higher, and bring even more honour and glory to our nation."
Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) was among a number of members who spoke in support of the motion.
Mr Seah, who is group chief executive of NTUC Enterprise and NTUC FairPrice, called on corporations to make meaningful monetary contributions to sports-related initiatives, and shared that NTUC has done so since 2008.
Mr Seah said that supporting sports in Singapore need not be at the expense of bread-and-butter issues such as employment, training and protection of the elderly.
"The common denominator is about celebrating the indomitable human spirit in overcoming adversities and challenges; and collectively encouraging one another to better ourselves," he added.
Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC) addressed the disparity in cash rewards for able-bodied and disabled athletes and said "it is time to bite the bullet" and make a change.
"I call for the Government to weigh in; facilitate the process to reimagine, review and resource not only the high-performance disability sports space but also widening the talent pipeline through greater sports participation," said Ms Phua, who is advisor to the Purple Parade, a national platform to promote awareness and celebrate the abilities of people with disabilities in Singapore.