Asean Para Games 2017

Asean Para Games: Region's athletes riding on a high

Taking the pledge at the SEA Games flag presentation ceremony were (from left) para athlete Suhairi Suhani, flag-bearer for the Asean Para Games, APG paddler Aaron Yeo and Jasmine Ser, flag-bearer for the SEA Games at the OCBC Square on July 22, 2017
Taking the pledge at the SEA Games flag presentation ceremony were (from left) para athlete Suhairi Suhani, flag-bearer for the Asean Para Games, APG paddler Aaron Yeo and Jasmine Ser, flag-bearer for the SEA Games at the OCBC Square on July 22, 2017. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

South-east Asia's best to light up the Games on the back of breakthrough Rio showing

Never has the disability sports scene in South-east Asia received as much attention and support as in recent times.

The ninth Asean Para Games (APG) kick off today in Kuala Lumpur, a year after the region's para-athletes had their best showing at the Paralympic Games.

In Rio de Janeiro last year, they achieved their best medal haul at the quadrennial Games, winning a combined total of 12 golds, seven silvers and 12 bronzes. Their previous best tally was five golds, four silvers and three bronzes at the 2000 Sydney Paralympics.

Many nations made breakthroughs. Vietnam won their first Paralympic medal and their athletes eventually went home with a gold, a silver and two bronzes.

Malaysia bagged their first gold at that level, eventually finishing with three golds and a bronze.

Singapore registered their best showing at the Games with two golds and one bronze.

The Philippines also won their first medal - a bronze - in 16 years.

Their achievements were also honoured with unprecedented rewards. Malaysian Paralympic champions were each given life-time pensions and RM1 million (S$320,200) - an amount that is on a par with able-bodied athletes.

Since the 2015 APG, Filipino gold medallists have received 150,000 pesos (S$3,930), up from 15,000 pesos.

So it is in the wake of that success and recognition that the biennial Games return for the third time to the Malaysian capital, which hosted the inaugural edition in 2001 and in 2009.

But much has changed since 2001, when just two sports (athletics and swimming) were contested and Singapore fielded 25 athletes.

This time, they have sent their largest away contingent of 90 para-athletes, including 21 debutants, to the Games, which will feature a record 16 sports. Cycling makes its debut today.

Singapore's chef de mission (CDM) Shirley Low said: "Going into the next Games, the previous event, whether it is Paralympics or APG, feeds the enthusiasm and excitement to the next one.

"I've heard from the other CDMs and we're talking about how there has been a lot more appreciation for para sport at an elite level now."

Noted Kevin Wong, chairman of the Singapore National Paralympic Council and president of the Singapore Disability Sports Council: "Over the years, para sport has captured the government's attention. Our athletes performed well not only in the region, but also in the world.

"This has led to the government realising that it had been missing out on this segment of athletes.

"And the standard of para sport in the region has risen to a level such that it cannot go unnoticed any more."

Debutants or veterans alike, they are relishing their chance to shine at the APG.

Said Singapore's flag-bearer Suhairi Suhani, 20, who is making his third APG appearance and will feature in the T20 long jump final on Friday: "I've got a new technique and I am expecting to record a personal best."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 17, 2017, with the headline 'Region's athletes riding on a high'. Print Edition | Subscribe