After months of dormancy, sport awakens in Singapore

There are tantalising matches as the Singapore Premier League title race goes down to the wire. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - For the first time in months, sport has come alive on local shores.

There will not be a day without live sport this week, with at least seven events taking place, albeit under strict measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

In this action-packed week, junior golfers are back in the swing of things at the EFG Singapore Junior Masters, there are tantalising matches as the Singapore Premier League (SPL) title race goes down to the wire, and swimmers are gunning for a spot in next year's Olympics at the Singapore National Olympic Qualifiers.

Other sports events taking place this week include the Nov 28-Dec 6 Marigold National Squash Championships, the Nov 27-Dec 6 Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon's virtual races and grand finale, mixed martial arts promotion One Championship's Big Bang event on Friday (Dec 4) and the ActiveSG x Foot Locker 2v2 Basketball Tournament.

If all goes well, this could be what the future holds for the local sports scene.

National squash player Samuel Kang's first competition back in almost a year was a very different experience from what he is used to.

Apart from the mandatory SafeEntry check-ins and temperature taking, participants of national championships can only enter the venue, Kallang Squash Centre, 15 minutes before the match.

"As a player going there, I feel like they're doing everything they can to make sure it's safe," said Kang, 29, who is the men's open top seed.

"I'm happy with how it's being run and hopefully it will all go smoothly and other sports can also resume having competitions and events."

Among the Covid-19 protocols for the tournament are the frequent sanitisation of equipment and courts, with courts cleaned once a day and touch points such as door knobs and the glass back wall wiped down with sanitiser hourly.

The other events happening this week also have strict measures in place.

Unlike previous years' swim meets that had about 700 participants, the Olympic qualifiers, which will be held from Thursday to Sunday, will see about 300 swimmers competing behind closed doors.

The number of technical officials has also been reduced from 30 to 14 and they will be required to wear a mask at all times while observing a 1m distance between each other.

The safe management measures for the EFG Singapore Junior Masters, which started on Monday and will end on Wednesday, include a single-barrel, one-tee start and no removal of flagsticks.

Three Hong Kong players who were supposed to travel to the Republic within the Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble were unable to after the arrangement was postponed following a spike in cases in the territory.

National women's golfer Shannon Tan, 16, said: "After an unexpected one year without a tournament because of Covid-19, I really looked forward to playing competitive golf, standing on the first tee and feeling that type of pressure.

"The thing that stood out for me was having the flagstick in at all times when putting as it affects my line of sight."

With the number of community transmissions in Singapore low at either zero or one in the past month, infectious disease experts The Straits Times spoke to believe it is the right time to start allowing more live sports events to resume.

Dr Piotr Chlebicki, an infectious diseases specialist at Mount Alvernia Hospital, said: "It's not a difficult decision to allow sports events nationally. For the past few weeks, there has been zero or one community cases, so it's high time to release the restrictions slowly internally, but we're not ready for international events or spectators yet."

While most of the live sport events this week do not require athletes and officials to undergo testing, Associate Professor Alex Cook, vice-dean of research at the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, suggested considering testing athletes before events now that rapid tests such as the antigen rapid tests (ARTs) are more available and affordable.

Prof Cook also recommended prioritising testing athletes in sports that involve more physical contact such as rugby and martial arts "given the risk of droplet-based spread".

He added: "I really hope this week is a success, and that it encourages more organisations to look at how sports can be done safely by both professional and amateur athletes.

"Right now, the risk in the community is extremely low, so this is a good time to start experimenting with safe ways to get us watching and doing sports."

Tampines Rovers FC players queue up to undergo fortnightly swab testing for Covid-19 on Nov 15, 2020, at the former Siglap Secondary School in Pasir Ris. PHOTO: ST FILE

Prior to this week, the live sports events that were given the go-ahead by authorities, mainly mixed martial arts events by One and the SPL, had not encountered major problems.

Before One's Inside the Matrix event on Oct 30, two cornermen tested positive, but the event still took place with the duo kept out of it.

Another cornerman tested positive for Covid-19 ahead of this Friday's Big Bang event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, but the event is to go on.

Protocols for the upcoming live event, which can have up to 250 fans in attendance, include the requirement for all foreign-based athletes, cornermen and staff to be isolated until they receive a negative test result, after which they will follow a strictly controlled itinerary that has been pre-approved.

Foreign-based athletes and One's production crew are also required to be tested four times - before they depart their country, on arrival in Singapore, as well as before and after their fight.

Before the SPL resumed on Oct 17, 223 players and officials were tested and they have been undergoing fortnightly swabs without any positives.

On sports returning, Sport Singapore chief executive Lim Teck Yin said: "The gradual resumption of sporting activities and competitions is made possible through the collaborative effort of the whole sporting community.

"We are very proud to have reached this milestone and encourage everyone to keep up the good work. Let us continue to play responsibly and do our part in minimising community transmission."

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