Boost for disability sports

Para Games organisers want more of 70,000 disabled Singaporeans to lead active lives

Singapore will be sending its largest-ever contingent to compete as hosts of the Dec 3-9 Asean Para Games - 166 athletes in 15 sports.

Yet that number is only a tiny fraction of the over 70,000 disabled Singaporeans, and Games organisers are targeting this group to encourage more to pick up a sport.

Said Singapore Asean Para Games Organising Committee (Sapgoc) chairman Lim Teck Yin yesterday: "Awareness of disability sport will be enhanced through the hosting of the Games... to enrich the lives of people with disabilities.

"The grand aspiration is to reach out to all people with disabilities (to let them know) that they stand to benefit from playing sports.

"Beyond the Games, we hope that more people will come forward to train."

Lim, who is also Sport Singapore's chief executive officer, was speaking at the sidelines of a disability sports seminar organised by Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

Besides sport physiotherapists and physicians delivering talks on disability sports, para athletes were also present to interact with the seminar participants by playing table tennis and trying out powerlifting.

Lim noted that the record number of Singapore athletes for the Asean Para Games is a positive sign of growth in the local disability sport scene.

Out of the 166 athletes, 98 are debutants. And for the first time, goalball and football teams have been formed.

Still, he believes that the benchmark of how successful a country performs is not just measured by their position in the Games medal standings, but also the number of participants, which is indicative of the health of the country's sport.

He said: "We have a long way to go. Hosting the Games has given us impetus to grow Team Singapore.

"We are quite embarrassed that after 42 years of (the national sports agency's) existence, we are finally paying more attention to sport for people with disabilities."

National powerlifter Melvyn Yeo's case will be making his debut at the Asean Para Games merely a few months after he was introduced to the sport in February.

One of only two representatives in the discipline at the Games, the 31-year-old hopes to see more athletes joining him next year.

Said the personal gym trainer, who has cerebral palsy: "To have a disability doesn't mean that you just stay at home. For whatever conditions, you can find a sport and be good at it."

To create more awareness in the lead-up to the Games, there will be a host of events and roadshows lined up to promote the sports to the public, including a cerebral palsy football competition held at the HDB Hub over this weekend.

For boccia athlete Nurulasyiqah Mohammad Taha, 31, competing at home will be a fresh experience for her even though she has already participated in the 2012 London Paralympics.

The wheelchair user who was born with spinal muscular atrophy said: "Usually at overseas competitions, it'll just be a few of us - athletes and officials. It will be my first time that I'm going to have so many of my families, colleagues and friends supporting me.

"It's nice to be able to rally the entire community together to support us."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 27, 2015, with the headline 'BOOST FOR DISABILITY SPORTS'. Subscribe