SINGAPORE - A heavy downpour on Wednesday (Nov 10) evening did little to deter trainee engineers Noor Hakim and Muhamad Noor Hakeem, as well as their eight friends, from taking eagerly to the futsal court at Pasir Ris Sports Centre the moment they could.
Their session had been delayed by nearly an hour owing to inclement weather, but Mr Hakim and Mr Hakeem were happy to wait, for they had already waited two years to play futsal.
The former Singapore Institute of Technology schoolmates used to meet at least once a week to play football and badminton, before school commitments and the pandemic put a stop to that.
So they jumped at the chance to play when a friend - who rushed to book the court when the pilot scheme allowing the resumption of team sports for up to 10 fully vaccinated persons was announced on Monday - invited them to join a futsal session.
Mr Hakeem, 25, said: "I've been doing workouts by myself, so I feel really happy that we're able to come together and that I'm able to do a sport that I really love and haven't been able to do for a while.
"We're all working from home, so we hardly get to meet one another, so it's really fun."
The pilot scheme is an encouraging development for weekend warriors as it is the first time 10 people have been allowed to play sports since the pandemic - eight was the previous maximum during phase three of Singapore's reopening from last December to May this year.
That number dropped to five in May, and is currently two outside of the pilot.
Under the scheme, members of the public are allowed to make vaccination-differentiated safe management measures (VDS) and antigen rapid test (ART) bookings for nine sports, including futsal, basketball and tennis, at 12 ActiveSG and 20 People's Association facilities.
The participants will have to do an on-site ART at the venue 30 minutes before each game and produce a valid negative result there before the activity.
Recreational athletes like Hakim said it was no trouble. He said: "We're doing our part, moving forward this is the new norm. It's inevitable for us to have to do ARTs. The officers here are polite and efficient too."
Futsal player Daniel Leong, who was at St Wilfred Field with eight friends, was glad to be back playing in bigger groups.
The Singapore Management University undergraduate, who usually plays futsal once every two months, had tried adapting to formats that were in line with the Covid-19 restrictions, but felt it was not the same.
The 22-year-old said: "We stopped playing during Covid-19 recently and tried to play only when the restrictions were more relaxed. So when it was groups of five, we just did 3v2 and had a kickaround.
"Now that they allow groups of 10, we can play a team game and it's so much more competitive and fun."
While the futsal courts were busy on Wednesday, the take-up rate for other sports under the VDS+ART scheme was not as high on the first day of the pilot.
There were no bookings for the volleyball and basketball courts at Our Tampines Hub when The Straits Times visited on Wednesday afternoon. There were no badminton players for the scheme at Toa Payoh Sports Hall when ST was there, although one booking was made on the first day.
ST understands that bookings for ActiveSG facilities are typically done two weeks in advance, well before the scheme was announced. Sport Singapore has received more than 200 applications for the scheme since.
Where to play:
Badminton: Changi Simei CC, Kampong Kembangan CC, Joo Chiat CC, The Frontier CC, Keat Hong CC, Jurong Green CC, Bukit Merah CC, Marymount CC, Zhenghua CC, Marsiling CC, ACE The Place CC, Anchorvale CC, Toa Payoh Sports Hall, Pasir Ris Sports Hall, Sengkang Sports Hall, Jurong West Sports Hall
Basketball: Ayer Rajah CC, Bukit Panjang CC, Punggol CC, Pasir Ris East CC, Our Tampines Hub - Team Sports Hall
Futsal (5v5): Our Tampines Hub, St Wilfred Field, Pasir Ris Five-a-side Soccer Pitch
Pickleball: Whampoa CC, Jurong West Sports Hall
Sepak takraw: Marsiling CC
Table tennis: Bedok CC, Keat Hong CC, Hougang Swimming Complex, Sengkang Sport Centre
Tchoukball: Ang Mo Kio CC
Tennis: St Wilfred Tennis Centre, Pasir Ris Tennis Centre, Yio Chu Kang Tennis Centre
Volleyball: Our Tampines Hub - Team Sports Hall
*There are specific time slots to make bookings under the pilot programme at certain venues.