SINGAPORE - More sports might be included in the National School Games (NSG) later this year if the Covid-19 situation remains under control and with more people in Singapore getting vaccinated, Minister for Education Lawrence Wong said on Wednesday (March 31).
At the NSG opening ceremony at Our Tampines Hub, Mr Wong said organisers will continue to review the situation and it might also be possible to consider easing some safety management measures.
This year's Games, which started on Monday and ends on May 27, features only 12 of 29 sports across the A, B and Senior Divisions. They are badminton, bowling, golf, gymnastics, rope skipping, sepak takraw, shooting, table tennis, taekwondo (poomsae), tennis, 3v3 volleyball and wushu.
It will see about 12,000 student-athletes competing, compared to the 60,000 usually involved in the three divisions plus the C and Junior ones.
The sports were selected as they were considered non-contact sports with limited physical contact and minimal inter-mingling among participants from different schools at competition venues.
The C and Junior Divisions are expected to resume in Term 3, which starts on June 28. The list of sports involved will be announced later.
Secondary schools contest the B (Sec 3, 4 and 5) and C (Sec 1 and 2) divisions, while the A division is for junior colleges. The Senior division is for Primary 5 and 6 pupils, and the Junior category is for those in Primary 3 to 5.
Mr Wong said: "While we are resuming the games, we are not doing it in the same fashion as before. We are adapting, we are putting in place precautions and many additional modifications.
"And that's because even though the infection is currently under control in Singapore, we are still not out of the woods.
"The virus has not been eradicated within our community, and it is very likely that there is still a low level of viral circulation in our community and that's why we have to remain alert and vigilant."
Safety management measures in place at the NSG include limits on venue capacity and the absence of spectators.
The national championships for table tennis, badminton (both Senior and B divisions) and volleyball (B division) have also been cancelled. Instead, these sports will feature only the zonal level due to the large number of participating schools and shorter competition period.
Mr Wong recounted how when the Republic saw an increase in local cases earlier this year, the Games had to be deferred and "there was a very real risk" that it could be suspended again.
The NSG was halted twice last year before it was eventually cancelled for the first time since it started in 1959.
Mr Wong said: "Fortunately, thereafter, we tightened up measures, we were able to bring down local transmission and keep it under control. After the Chinese New Year festivities, we have not seen any uptick in cases.
"At the same time, we have also started ramping up on vaccination across the entire population and also among teachers to protect our educators as well as the students and school community.
"So all that has given us confidence and I'm very glad that today we are able to finally proceed with the NSG."
Fairfield Methodist School (Secondary) volleyball player Yap Sze Xuen, 16, was disappointed that she would not get a chance to compete in nationals but understood the need for such restrictions.
"We don't want the spread of the virus and if we want to play 6v6 next time, we should abide by this until we can return and eventually go on to nationals again. It's for the benefit of future generations," said the Secondary 4 student, who is aiming to clinch the South Zone title with her team.
Mr Wong also noted that "sporting excellence is not defined solely by achievements in the NSG; it has to go beyond that".
He added: "I hope all our student-athletes take the opportunity to reflect and take stock of your sporting journey so far, and how this has shaped your response to adversity.
"Cherish the bonds you have formed with your fellow teammates, your coaches and teachers and even your parents who have journeyed with you, and continue to give your best and keep striving for excellence in everything."