Hand it to Singaporean female handball pioneer

Gan Yun Ting, 26, hopes that her year-long semi-professional stint in Japan will open more doors for other local handballers and help grow the sport in Singapore. ST PHOTO: JEREMY KWAN
Gan Yun Ting, 26, hopes that her year-long semi-professional stint in Japan will open more doors for other local handballers and help grow the sport in Singapore. ST PHOTO: JEREMY KWAN

Gan Yun Ting to work and play for company in Okinawa, aims to popularise sport locally

Gan Yun Ting had been mulling over pursuing a career in handball the past few years but, daunted by the sacrifices it required, did not make the leap.

"I wanted to challenge myself to play at another level," said the 26-year-old, who was a senior retail associate and supervisor.

"In Singapore, right now, we (the national team) don't play with other teams because they are much stronger. So there's only a maximum level you can reach.

"But letting go of everything here is a bit scary."

Gan, who plays for National Handball League team Nexus, has now overcome her fears. She will be the first Singapore woman to play handball semi-professionally when she leaves for Okinawa, Japan, tomorrow to play for The Terrace Hotels club side on a one-year contract.

They were formed in April and aim to be part of the Japan Handball League (JHL), the country's semi-professional league.

Like most players in the JHL, Gan will work and play handball for a company. She will serve guests in the first half of the day at the hotel before training in the later half. But she will not have to work during competitions.

"I want to learn as much as I can and when I come back, impart my skills to others; I just want handball to be out there," said Gan, who has played the sport for the last nine years.

NARROWING THE GAP

In Singapore, right now, we (the national team) don't play with other teams because they are much stronger. So there's only a maximum level you can reach.

GAN YUN TING, Singapore handballer, on the gulf in standards compared with foreign teams.

HAPPY ENDING

At one point, I really thought I couldn't go because of my dad. But I understand that my family is worried for me and I'm just happy that I got this opportunity.

GAN, whose parents were concerned about the opportunity costs of moving overseas.

The centre-back began sourcing for overseas opportunities at the start of the year when she felt her development had stagnated but self-doubt stopped her from sending applications out.

Her teammates stepped in and contacted Handball Federation of Singapore sports executive Justin Low after she confided in them.

Low contacted the club and helped to arrange a four-day trial for her in May. While the game was more physical and faster in Japan, Gan did enough to impress.

Even then, there were several hurdles to clear.

The language barrier was an issue because she needed to command the defence and attack, so she has been trying to learn Japanese.

Also, she has been working on the physical aspects of her game with former Singapore water polo player Lim Yao Xiang at his gym, GritYard.

But, perhaps the biggest hurdle she faced was getting her family's approval.

Gan was initially offered a three-year contract, but they were reluctant to let her go because they felt the prospects were not much better - a pay package between $2,300 and $3,000 does not fully cover her accommodation and meals. But they relented when the club reduced it to a one-year deal instead.

She said: "At one point, I really thought I couldn't go because of my dad. But I understand that my family is worried for me and I'm just happy that I got this opportunity.

Low hopes Gan's stint will open doors for the sport here, adding: "We want her to just go out and try her very best and make a name for herself.

"Hopefully, when we ask for more support, other countries or international federations are more willing to help us develop because we have a player out there.

"I hope the sport gets more traction and, with this, we can apply for more grants."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2019, with the headline 'Hand it to female handball pioneer'. Print Edition | Subscribe