With the return of an international boccia tournament to the Republic after 10 years, Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC) president Kevin Wong hopes local interest in the sport from both disabled and able-bodied athletes will grow.
The Tiger Balm Boccia Open will take place from May 29 to June 2, boosted by a donation of over $70,000 from homegrown brand Tiger Balm, said organiser SDSC in a press statement yesterday.
Singapore last hosted an international boccia tournament in 2008 and this year's tournament will take place at Heartbeat@Bedok. The 35 athletes from Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea include Singaporean Paralympian Toh Sze Ning and Thailand's Worawut Saengampa, the current world No. 1 in the BC2 category.
Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and Ministry of Communications and Information, will welcome the teams at the opening ceremony on May 30.
Wong told The Straits Times: "The nature of boccia is that it is a seated indoor sport, which the elderly can play. Once you're seated, the playing field is equal and it's an easy platform for seniors to get involved and play with our disabled athletes."
A recent visit to the Chungnam province in South Korea, where inclusive boccia tournaments are staged, had also allowed him to learn more about the country's inclusive sports programme.
Wong, who expressed gratitude to Tiger Balm brand owner Haw Par Corporation Limited for its support, added: "(The Tiger Balm Boccia Open) is not just a tournament per se, there's a lot of peripheral events that will take place, like officiating courses.
"Many years ago when we started, it was a deliberate effort not just to create exposure but also to train up our technical expertise (in areas) like coaching and refereeing... we're trying to build up our pool of athletes and officials again."
Tiger Balm has been supporting the SDSC's boccia programme for the past four years, providing athletes and officials subsidies for training needs such as transportation, equipment and competitions.
Wee Ee Lim, president and chief executive of Haw Par Corporation Limited, said: "We believe this to be a worthwhile endeavour as it showcases the achievements of the boccia athletes from different countries as they pit their skills against one another.
"We applaud the courage and determination of the boccia athletes."
The athletes - 17 from Singapore, eight from Thailand, seven from Korea and three from Malaysia - will compete across four categories: the BC1, BC2, BC3 and BC4 classes. Three titles are on offer in each class: Individual, pair and team.
"I am very excited to be participating in this leg. I was at the 2008 edition and, since then, I have made a lot of improvements especially after representing Singapore," said 24-year-old Toh, who will compete in the BC3 class.
"I'm happy that Singapore is hosting it as more players from Team Singapore can participate. Such competitions can help the juniors gain experience competing in an international setting. For goals, I will just play my usual and do my best."
Public outreach sessions will also take place on May 27 and 30 at the atrium of Heartbeat@Bedok, where the public can have fun in mini challenges adapted from boccia. Challengers can redeem Tiger Balm products or limited edition Team Singapore T-shirts.