'Like a ghost town'

Athletes hail safer conditions at Hub even as they pivot in face of Covid-19 restrictions

The Singapore Slingers training at the OCBC Arena before Phase 2 (Heightened Alert). Yesterday, they had three courts to six players.
The Singapore Slingers training at the OCBC Arena before Phase 2 (Heightened Alert). Yesterday, they had three courts to six players. ST FILE PHOTO

In normal circumstances, when the Singapore Slingers - comprising mostly national basketballers - train at the OCBC Arena Hall 1, they usually do so with weekend warriors flanking them on adjacent courts.

However, since Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) came into play last Sunday and the Singapore Sports Hub announced the OCBC Arena and OCBC Aquatic Centre would be closed to the public from yesterday till further notice, the area has become ''like a ghost town''.

Even the look of the Slingers' sessions has changed. Six players with masks on are spread out across the three courts and have one hoop each as they work on individual fundamentals.

Outside the Arena, some Slingers in groups of two are doing conditioning work, running up and down the stairs, three metres apart.

After yesterday's training session from 11am to 1pm, Slingers general manager Michael Johnson told The Straits Times: ''We have had fewer issues with stray balls flying around, but on a more serious note, we are used to the need to adjust. With fewer people around, I guess it makes it safer for us to train.''

On Thursday, the Sports Hub decided to close some of its main facilities to facilitate the safe and uninterrupted training of Team Singapore athletes and ensure athletes can train in their own bubbles with no cross-exposure with the public.
This move affects 11 sports - badminton, basketball, boccia, netball, table tennis, volleyball, fencing, rhythmic gymnastics, silat, swimming and diving.

Phase 2 (Heightened Alert), which includes limiting sport and physical activities to groups of two to curb the spread of Covid-19, will end on June 13.

At OCBC Arena Hall 2, where Olympic and SEA Games-bound national shuttlers train, Jason Teh appreciates he can still attend morning training six days a week.

''I feel sorry that the public are not allowed to use the hall. But with fewer people using the facilities, it definitely reduces the risk and makes us feel safer, which allows us to focus fully on training,'' said the 20-year-old, who won the men's singles title at the last two Singapore Sports Hub National Open tournaments.

Over at the OCBC Aquatic Centre, national divers have to produce negative swab test results.

During the training sessions, one pair uses one board at each time. But if more than two pairs have to use the same board, when one is jumping, the other pair have to wait a safe distance away.

Tokyo-bound Jonathan Chan said: ''I'm thankful for all the effort put in for us to train safely. We have been training with pre-existing regulations so it's not like a big jump... we are quite used to it.''

Meanwhile, Singapore Fencing is working out its programme details with Sport Singapore to resume training at OCBC Arena Hall 6.

Singapore Fencing vice-president David Chan said: ''Our athletes who are preparing for the Olympics and SEA Games are having limited training - only individual lessons and pair work - in accordance with Sport Singapore's guidelines, with their private coaches at their respective clubs.

''Some are also taking a short break in this period to be physically and mentally fresh for the SEA Games.

''While fencing usually requires sparring with multiple opponents, we have to adapt given the current circumstances.

How the other national athletes are coping

''The Sports Hub's measures definitely provide greater peace of mind for athletes who need to continue training there, especially if the new variant is shown to be transmissible even with transient contact.''

Sports facilities such as stadiums, sports halls and swimming pools were closed when circuit breaker measures took effect on April 7 last year, which meant national athletes had to cease regular training.

Two months later, Sport Singapore announced that those who have qualified or are close to qualifying for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will be allowed to resume training ''under controlled conditions'' at selected venues from June 2 following the end of the circuit breaker period.


This period saw teams relying on virtual training sessions. Following the latest tightening of measures, many - including floorball, bowling, cycling and hockey teams - are reverting to individual workouts again.

The Singapore Floorball Association has suspended all on-court training and players now do individual physical training.

National women's floorball captain Michelle Lok, 26, said: ''I'm disappointed and sad because I thought that we were quite close to actually being able to play a fullcourt game, then this happened.''

National cyclist Luo Yiwei, 31, admitted that ''morale will take a hit'' but added that she is better equipped to handle it since she has been through it before.

Besides outdoor solo rides, she also trains on her stationary bike using virtual training platform Zwift that simulates the actual terrain of cycling routes around the world.

''It's not a huge setback - it's not something new... so we already know what to do,'' said Luo, who trains six days a week.

''(Last year) I was almost burning myself out more, since staying at home meant I could just wake up, train and recover. It was quite a productive period, but it wasn't sustainable.

''You expect the world to open up and races to go on, but as races got cancelled and borders closed, it was very demoralising. I'm approaching this with a bit more of a calm mindset this year.

''I'm more prepared and betterplaced psychologically. We know what to expect so we will adjust accordingly.''


Her national teammate Calvin Sim, 31, admitted that ''it is a bit hard without competitions'' but urged his fellow athletes to ''look at big-picture goals, like the SEA Games and Asian Games''.

Then, he said, ''they would be able to continue to motivate themselves, instead of just thinking about the short-term race cancellations''.

To keep its athletes motivated, the Singapore Golf Association will be implementing a competitive element during training, such as short game tests or putting tests, said SGA high performance manager Joshua Ho.

The tests can be done anywhere in their own training area or driving range and the golfers will submit their scores onto an app, where they can compare them to those of their teammates.

Ho said: ''By competing among themselves, they can experience a pressured situation where they can slowly get used to being back in competition and keep the motivation going.''

National bowler Cherie Tan, who will now follow a home-based strength and conditioning programme, is focusing on the positives.

The 33-year-old Sportswoman of the Year said: ''I see a silver lining in this situation, which is to take a short break given that we have been training continuously since June last year.''

Oldham Hockey Club president Christabel Chan, whose team will organise weekly online workout sessions in place of pitch training, also chose to look on the bright side.

Added the 27-year-old: ''This may increase interest in the sport because everyone will be itching to play hockey once the restrictions are lifted.''

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 22, 2021, with the headline ''Like a ghost town''. Subscribe