SINGAPORE - Singaporeans should rally behind and inspire Team Singapore athletes to win gold at the upcoming SEA Games in June and the Asean Para Games in December.
The two events should also serve as a launch pad for Singaporeans to adopt life-long participation in sports, Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), told Parliament during the debate on his ministry's budget on Thursday.
Both games, which Singapore will host, are two key focal points for the ministry this year, as it works towards its Vision 2030 sports masterplan for all Singaporeans to "Live Better Through Sport".
Mr Wong said in Parliament: "These are two excellent opportunities for all of us to rally together, to put up a good show, and also to cheer for our athletes.
"I want to call on employers, whether in the public or private sectors, to grant your employees time-off to come to the Games, especially if they are friends or family members of our athletes.
"In the words of our national sprinter Calvin Kang, 'Support from Singaporeans is important to me because this is home, and home is where my heart belongs.' So the Games will be a rare opportunity for Singaporeans, all 5 million of us, to show that we are part of One Team Singapore," he added.
Team Singapore will be fielding its largest contingents for both Games - close to 700 athletes for the SEA Games and more than 100 for the Para Games.
Friends and family members of Singapore athletes have purchased better-discounted tickets - likely to be as much as 30 per cent - through the respective National Sports Associations. Currently, members of the public could receive up to 20 per cent discount for group purchase of tickets.
As for the participating athletes, some 400 of them are benefitting from the Final Push Programme (FPP), which provides more grants for training, coaching and equipment expenses ahead of the June 5-16 SEA Games.
The Straits Times understands that about 140 Para athletes will also enjoy the enhanced grants under the FPP later this year, before the Dec 3-9 Asean Para Games.
Besides helping the Team Singapore athletes in their quest for gold, the MCCY will also introduce more opportunities for young Singaporeans inspired by the two Games to pick up life-long sporting habits.
The ActiveSG initiative, launched in April last year to encourage a sporting lifestyle among Singaporeans, has seen more than 700,000 sign up as members. Of these, about three in five members have utilised their $100 ActiveSG free credits to book facilities and sign up for sports programmes.
The initiative will be expanded to partnerships with schools to complement their sports curriculum.
For example, through the School Holiday Sports Programmes, students can sample a variety of new sports, such as archery, floorball, futsal, in-line skating and ultimate frisbee.
ActiveSG can also help strengthen existing CCA sports programmes. For instance, it has partnered the Basketball Association of Singapore for a new developmental league for school teams knocked out early in the zonal competitions.
By allowing the teams to continue competing instead of going into a lull after elimination, the league is proving a hit with youth basketballers who are eager for more playing time.
Eugene Han, 16, plays for the Presbyterian High School basketball team in the 22-team developmental league, and is glad for more chances to compete and make friends on and off the courts.
"When we were eliminated from the North Zone competition, we were upset because we thought all the training had gone to waste," the Secondary 4 student told The Straits Times. "But this new league gives us a new motivation to play harder and impress the coaches. We have won three games in a row."
As for those youngsters who are keen to pursue sports as a career, Mr Wong said that the Singapore Sports School (SSP) is in the midst of refining the development pathway of its student athletes.
The school has recently completed a review of its first 10 years, and the review committee will release its full report later this year. One idea is for SSP to offer predominantly six-year-plus through-train programmes, and to work with more Institutes of higher learning to provide more post-secondary pathways.