Life in limbo for some of Singapore's team sports

The Singapore Slingers training at the OCBC Arena in January. The players train thrice a week with no games in sight. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the Singapore Slingers used to travel about six months a year across the region, playing over 20 games in the Asean Basketball League (ABL).

But that has been on hold since March 2020 when the league was suspended owing to the coronavirus situation in the region, leaving the players to train thrice a week with no games in sight.

Some have since turned to coaching at the ActiveSG Basketball Academy while others are selling backpacks and apparel online.

And while life is slowly returning to normalcy for team sports like floorball, that has not been the case for the Singaporean franchise as the two-season hiatus continues.

With time on their hands, Slingers guard Tay Ding Loon created his own backpack brand in September 2020 and TheBagPlaceCo is available on online shopping platform Shopee.

The 27-year-old said: "It's been tough because we haven't been able to play, or even train, 5v5 (five versus five) for 18 months. The maximum we have had was 4v4, when eight people were allowed in a group. Nowadays, it's just 2v2. It definitely affects our court fitness.

"We are grateful to the Slingers management who understands our predicament and gives us the flexibility to pursue other things outside basketball. The pandemic in a way has given me more time and the chance to explore other areas."

Teammate Delvin Goh has just launched DreamGraphiques, his own line of customisable apparel.

While he is grateful to Slingers co-owner Wee Siew Kim for paying the team's salary despite the hiatus, the 26-year-old said: "Many of us are in our prime and we don't want to let our peak period go to waste. But we understand the need to be safe rather than sorry when dealing with the pandemic.

"While it is worrying that the region does not look like it is opening up soon, we can only take one step at a time and stay positive."

The Slingers are not alone in their predicament as other team sports like netball and hockey are unlikely to see any competitions for the rest of the year. The Straits Times understands that some team sports have resumed full training.

Netball Singapore chief executive Cyrus Medora is concerned as numerous attempts to restart the Netball Super League have been aborted. The association will make another push for six teams to have two rounds of competition from the last weekend of September, or one round in late October.

He added: "The league is very important to us to prepare for international competitions and pick players for the following year. October will be the last window for us to have the league this year because the national team will have to start training for the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games held in Thailand next March."

National women's hockey team captain Ho Puay Ling admitted that the lack of competitions has been "frustrating and challenging", with men's captain Ashriq Ferdaus adding that not having competitions also means not being able to see where the team stands against other countries.

But both players, whose last competitions were the International Hockey Federation (FIH) Series Final in 2019, have adopted a positive mindset and see this as a chance to improve aspects of their game such as technical skills and fitness.

Ho said: "These past few months, and perhaps the months ahead are an opportunity to put in work to improve and sharpen my individual skills so that I'll be primed when we eventually start competing again."

While some team sports are stuck here for the season, others like floorball, cricket and handball will get to compete in international competitions as borders open in Europe and central Asia.

Singapore's floorball players, who received a $30,000 sponsorship boost from Goldbell Financial Services recently, will compete in the Dec 3-11 Men's World Floorball Championships - which was postponed for a year - in Finland and the Nov 27-Dec 5 women's edition, which will be held in Sweden.

The national cricket players are gearing up for the Cricket World Cup Challenge League A - a tournament that forms part of the qualification pathway to the 2023 Cricket World Cup - which is slated to take place in Malaysia in November or December.

The national cricket players are gearing up for the Cricket World Cup Challenge League A. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Before the pandemic struck, a team from Pakistan would usually come to Singapore for about a month to train with and compete against the national team as part of preparations for major competitions, but it may be difficult to make similar arrangements for the year-end competition owing to the pandemic.

Men's team captain Amjad Mahboob, who is looking forward to competing again, said: "The team (from Pakistan) play very good cricket and they really give us a hard time. When we train with them, we may lose to them, but we also benefit from the experience because it's helped us beat other teams."

Singapore's handball players, who are currently in Jordan competing in the Sept 15-25 Asian Women's Handball Championship to qualify for December's World Women's Handball Championship in Spain, also had to make adjustments to their preparations.

As they were unable to travel overseas for training camps and competitions, they sparred against the men's team and increased court training sessions from thrice to up to five times a week.

Sharlene Chan, whose last competition was the Singapore Handball Open Tournament in December 2019, was glad to experience the "adrenaline and intensity" of competing again and to feature in more events, including the World Women's Handball Championship, as well as the SEA Games and Asian Games next year.

National handballer Sharlene Chan was glad to experience the "adrenaline and intensity" of competing again and to feature in more events. PHOTO: HANDBALL FEDERATION OF SINGAPORE

The 27-year-old said: "This year's Asian Championship was an important stepping stone that would give us a good gauge of our standard and also gain international game experience.

"It's going to be a very exciting timeline for handball in the upcoming year."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.