The Singapore team heading into the 18th World Pencak Silat Championship starting today have been set a target of six gold medals.
Singapore Silat Federation (Persisi) chief executive Sheik Alau'ddin, a former world champion, believes the current crop of athletes can surpass the four-gold record showing in 2004, the last time the Republic was host.
"We're looking at three from artistic events and three from match events. We have six athletes who are Sports Excellence (spex) scholars, and they have been training full-time," he said at the pre-tournament press conference at the Mandarin Orchard Hotel yesterday.
The spexScholarship provides an enhanced level of support for athletes with the aim of achieving results at major Games.
The six in the programme are world champions Shakir Juanda and Sheik Farhan, Nurzuhairah Yazid, who won an artistic silver at August's Asian Games in Jakarta, Nur Alfian Juma'en, Nurul Suhaila Saiful and Muhammad Iqbal.
"And we've also got Sheik Ferdous, who is not yet a spexScholar, but he's already won a few gold medals at the Asian Championships and was second at the Asian Games too," added Sheik of his second son.
The tournament will see 300 athletes from over 40 countries vying for honours, with Singapore fielding a team of 29.
Spectators at the free-entry event will be able to experience other martial arts, such as karate and judo, a more inclusive approach that Persisi hopes will help extend the reach of silat.
Sheik acknowledged that silat may have suffered from inconsistent judging, raising issues of biased officiating and unfair results. But he said moves are being made to improve the image of the sport.
"There are sports that also struggle with this, like boxing and even taekwondo, but there have been times at major Games like the SEA Games where many people have been shocked by the outcome in silat. There is a problem with judging, but we are fixing it," he said.
He pointed to the implementation of electronic scoring that immediately reflects a judge's decision on a scoreboard, to replace the pen-and-paper method.
There is also a move to develop electronic vests that can detect when an exponent has been hit, akin to the gear donned by taekwondo and fencing exponents. But he said that the prototype does not fit the specific requirements of the sport and work will continue.
"That will solve 95 per cent of the problems we face, and it will change the perception of the sport," he said.
Sport Singapore (SportSG) chief Lim Teck Yin hailed Persisi's efforts to bring technology into the sport, and its influence on the Malay community here.
"The sport is certainly the pride of the Malay community, and we (SportSG) are keen to enable them to take silat outside of the Malay community," he said. "It is great to have the world championship here; we need platforms like these, and role models like silat's spexScholars to do just that."
The championship will be broadcast live on Toggle and YouTube, coordinated by host broadcaster 1 Play Sports.