SINGAPORE - With 2021 being a remarkable year in Singapore sport, the Government is eager to continue nurturing elite athletes and building on the successes of the past year.
Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday (Jan 12), Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong reiterated the Government's commitment to sport and recapped the Republic's various support schemes for the nation's elite athletes, in response to queries from parliamentarians.
Four Singaporean athletes conquered the world in 2021 - badminton world champion Loh Kean Yew, Tokyo Paralympics double-gold swimmer Yip Pin Xiu, world bowling champion Shayna Ng, and pool player Aloysius Yapp, who became the first Singaporean to be ranked world No. 1 in his sport.
Mr Tong told the House: "There are very few things that can motivate, galvanise and inspire in the way sports can. Singaporeans were top of the podium on the world stage several times in the past year. Each occasion was an inspiration, bringing our community together, fostering such a deep sense of national pride.
"The Government will therefore remain committed to sports in Singapore. We will keep our sports facilities, programmes and activities open and accessible to every Singaporean to promote a strong sporting culture and develop a pipeline of strong sporting talent.
"We will support every one of our national athletes with the assistance and resources they need to excel at the elite level, and emerge as national champions and world beaters at the best arenas and world stages possible."
Mr Tong cited the Government's investment of an average of almost $90 million annually over the last three years to develop and operate stadiums, running tracks, sports halls and other venues that are accessible to the public.
He also pointed to the investment of about $70 million the Government has made in the Singapore High Performance Sports system each year.
The investment, he said, has helped support the technology needed in sports science facilities, funded the cost of coaches and training programmes, and allowed elite athletes to train in the most optimal conditions possible. He added that these continued investments will ensure the production of more world beaters.
In his reply to Mr Xie Yao Quan (Jurong GRC), who had asked how the Government plans to continue supporting the likes of Loh, Mr Tong said: "It is imperative on us to continue to invest in the whole system because by doing so, providing holistic support, ensuring that the base is grown, then the possibility of more Kean Yews, more Shayna(s), more Aloysius(s), who are all world No. 1 last year, will continue to be not just an aspiration, but a reality.
"So we have to expand our base, build up better sporting infrastructure, talent spotting, talent development, nurturing, bringing them through the system, and ensuring that these trailblazers that Mr Xie has mentioned will continue to inspire future generations of sportsmen for Singapore."
Ms Poh Li San (Sembawang GRC) asked about safety nets for those pursuing a professional sporting career. She pointed out that it would help assure athletes and their parents if they decide to go full time to pursue sporting excellence.
In his reply, Mr Tong agreed that "we do need to ensure that our athletes are single-minded, focused, and put all their energies and devote their time and mental focus on training and eventually also on competition".
He pointed to the various sports excellence programmes available that provide a range of support, which allows athletes to focus on their training without having to worry about "ancillary matters".
He also cited the examples of two former athletes - Henry Koh and Kelvin Ho - who transitioned successfully after their sporting careers were over.
Koh, a double bronze medallist in fencing at the 2003 SEA Games, recently led Amita Berthier and Kiria Tikanah to their maiden Olympic Games in Tokyo, while current national badminton singles coach Ho is a former national athlete who won a bronze at the 2009 SEA Games.
Mr Tong also noted that it is in the interest of Singapore sport "to ensure that we take advantage of and leverage the expertise of these athletes". This would then allow them to find a post-competition career in sports-related areas such as sports science, nutrition, training and physiotherapy.
"We will take opportunities as much as we can to continue to develop these adjunct (areas) so that... the athletes themselves can continue to serve in that capacity and, at the same time, still find a career after their playing days are over."
But he also agreed with Ms Poh that "more can be done" and that the Government would continue to work with all stakeholders to achieve this.