Budget debate: Sports community gets additional $25 million boost to tide over pandemic

This will take the total amount of government support to help the industry mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic to $75 million. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - The Government will inject another $25 million into the Sports Resilience Package (SRP), Minister of Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong announced in Parliament on Monday (March 8).

This will take the total amount of government support to help the industry mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic to $75 million.

The bulk of the additional funds will go towards an expansion of the $3 million Enterprise Innovation and Capability Development Grant (EICDG) - which was first introduced in June 2020 - while a new Self-Employed Person (SEP) Project Grant will benefit health and fitness professionals.

"All these measures will help our sectors adapt to the new normal," said Mr Tong, who also announced support measures for the arts and culture sector.

The expansion of the SRP was one of a number of sports-related announcements made by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) on Monday.

Of the additional war chest, $22.5 million will go towards extending the EICDG until 2025. The grant, administered by national sports agency Sport Singapore, supports sports businesses which aim to capitalise on growth opportunities in the digital economy.

One such businesses is SportsKingdom, which was set up in 2017 and aims to provide a management system for sports academies online.

Its chief executive officer and founder, Mr Chetan Suryawanshi, a former national cricket player, said the company's next big project is to develop an app with an artificial intelligence (AI) component that will act like a coach and allow users to hone their skills.

SportsKingdom plans to roll out the app early next year with the AI feature for cricket, and wants to branch out to other sports like football, tennis, hockey and basketball.

"The app can tell you where you need to improve and what drills you should do, which you can do in your own backyard or personal space," said Mr Suryawanshi, 36, who noted that there are currently similar apps for professional players but that these require gadgets attached to bats or rackets.

Local businesses can also rely on an extension of operating grants, at a quantum of up to 15 per cent of total operation expenses and capped at $10,000 per month, until December.

The Youth Floorball Academy is one of close to 100 businesses that has relied on such operating grants.

Ms Elaine Tan, who co-founded the academy in May 2017 with her husband, Mr Norani Zaini, estimated that their business suffered revenue loss of about $20,000 when operations came to a halt temporarily during the circuit breaker in April and May last year.

Ms Tan, 34, said: "The operating grant was very useful because our costs have increased... (because) we had to increase the number of sessions and coaches we hired to comply with safe management measures.

"At the same time, we have been mindful not to increase our fees because we do not want to pass the cost down (to trainees). So the grant relieves the pressure off our operations so we can focus more on developing more interesting plans for our trainees, especially with competitions still not allowed to restart."

The SEP Project Grant, meanwhile, will provide additional support for individuals and businesses - capped at $25,000 per application - to develop projects that enhance the health and wellness of Singaporeans.

This complements training allowance grants - at $7.50 per hour for coaches who take up CoachSG courses beyond nationally-registered coaches' required hours - and structured mentorship for coaches, which have been in place since last November and were on Monday extended until March 2022.

National Under-15 football team head coach Philippe Aw took up both opportunities, attending three online courses and in January began a six-month mentorship programme to two basketball coaches and a hockey coach.

Mr Aw, 43, said that he felt it was vital for coaches to "upskill, upgrade and stay relevant" during the downtime even as the pandemic has limited physical training sessions.

He added: "Even though the coaches (mentored) are not from the same sport, our sports have similarities in the way they are played and that they are team sports.

"Coaching has so many elements so… the (mentorship) goes beyond the technical or skill aspects of the sport."

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Other sports-related announcements:

- The establishment of the Safe Sport Programme to address abuse and harassment in sport;

- The development of a sports industry development plan to grow a more economically vibrant and sustainable sports sector;

- The launch of a new Active Health Corporate Playbook to help corporations embrace sport and leverage health and well-being as their competitive advantage; and

- Campaign support for national athletes gearing up for major Games, which includes a pilot project utilising computer vision systems.

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