SINGAPORE - To build on the recent success of its top pool players, world No. 2 Aloysius Yapp and 48th ranked Sharik Sayed, Cuesports Singapore (CS) is aiming for a golden break by opening centres of excellence (COE) across the island this year in a bid to widen its talent pool.
Currently, its Cuesports Academy at Katong Shopping Centre is its only COE where children aged seven to 12 and youth from 13 to 16 have been training under its CueKids programme since last December.
This facility is also where its male and female development squads, as well as national billiards, pool and snooker players train.
At present, those who are under 16 typically get to play and train in cue sports only at social clubs.
As Singapore Sport Institute chief Su Chun Wei visited the academy on Saturday (Feb 19), CS president Justin Lee told The Straits Times: "Development of the sport is hampered by age restrictions imposed by the entertainment licenses for most snooker halls (which prohibit the admission of those under 16).
"CS has the intention to work with corporate partners to develop and/or manage centres of excellence and youth training programmes. This would solve the issue of cost, reach and also create more income pathways for our coaches and umpires registered on our roster.
"With CS accredited programmes and SSI support through the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, we hope to work with the Ministry of Home Affairs to mitigate concerns to allow the programmes to be rolled out at the snooker and pool halls."
Lee acknowledged that the sport has been trying to overcome its negative image from an association with smoking and gambling at billiard saloons, and that he takes inspiration from bowling, which successfully weeded out such activities from their centres since the early 2000s.
He added that the association and its partners will be looking to put in place safeguards at the COEs such as the prohibition of alcohol sales and a code of conduct that includes dress code so that "there are standards, discipline and decorum befitting of aspiring athletes" at such centres.
Wang Zhan Feng, a 13-year-old snooker player who has played the sport for four years and is part of CS' youth programme, is excited about the new COEs. He has been training at Snooker Zone in Toa Payoh on Saturdays, only after seeking approval from the Police.
He said: "This is great news because it gives children and youth more opportunities to learn about the sport and play it.
"Cue sports is not a gangster sport like how some misunderstand it to be. It can develop passion and boost one's confidence and focus."
His father Alex Wang added: "If the partnerships work and more COEs are opened, it will definitely help promote the sport more so that more parents will know that it has moved on from an Ah Beng sport in the 80s into a gentleman's game now."
Once the COEs take off and more children and youth begin to learn pool, it would also provide national players a career path to become coaches after completing the National Registry of Coaches Level 1 course.
There are also plans to increase the number of national ranking tournaments back to four per year after the Covid-19 pandemic brought them to a near standstill.