Government admits Singapore lacks eco-system for sports

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By Kannan Raj

Despite boasting of a world class Singapore Sports Hub which the taxpayers will pay $4billion for, the Singapore Sports Institute, the Singapore Sports School and the National Youth Sports Institute and a plethora of public facilities of which costs taxpayers millions more every year, Singapore just does not have the eco-system to attract the world’s best athletes.

This revelation was made by the Chief Executive of government statutory board Sport Singapore Lim Teck Yin in an interview with the TODAY newspaper, found here.

In response to TODAY, Mr Lim, who has been the CEO of Sport Singapore since 2011, a statutory board under the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, said: “The world’s best gravitate to US colleges not just in swimming but a range of other sports. They offer a world-class environment where the athletes there are future competitors.”

He further went on to add that “we can have world class coaches here but we may not have the eco-system to attract the world’s best” and that “we must be enlightened enough to place athlete there (in the US) and the important thing is to develop the capability to place our athletes there.”

By his reckoning, if world class athletes do not think Singapore has the eco-system to groom champions, then it will mean that Singaporean athletes will never become world class athletes by training and living in Singapore.

Sports officials TOC spoke to had mixed feelings towards Lim’s comments. And interestingly, all wanted to remain anonymous, which gives an indication of the climate in which the sports sector in Singapore operates under these days.

Said a former track and field athlete, who spoke on condition of anonymity: “After spending so much money to develop sports infrastructure in Singapore, including a Singapore Sports Hub, it is strange that the Chief Executive of the government agency states that Singapore lacks the eco-system. This is not true. The Singapore Sports School, the Singapore Sports Institute, access to sport science support, general national safety, security, stability, a good transport system and a firm Singapore dollar are all indications that Singapore does have an eco-system. Instead of writing Singapore off, the CEO of Sport Singapore should instead be coming up with strategies to ensure that Singapore is able make itself a centre where we are able to groom world class athletes. If we can’t, then whatever money the taxpayers have put into sport development in Singapore is a nothing but a complete waste.”

Yet another sports administrator felt that Lim Teck Yin was wrong in his comments. He pointed out that American swimmer Kevin Cordes, who won a relay gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, had trained in Singapore at the OCBC Aquatic Centre under former Singapore head coach Sergio Lopez.

Photo from speediswim.net

Swimming complex at Singapore Sports School with 2 all-weather Olympic-sized pools (Photo from speediswim.net)

“Kevin trained in Singapore and went on to win a medal at the Olympics in the relay. Also, our top ranked table tennis players who have all won medals at the Olympics in previous Olympic Games, also use Singapore and the Toa Payoh Sports Hall as a base while they train in Singapore and compete overseas,” said the sports administrator who has been in the sector for about five years.

In Lim’s defence, yet another former athlete point out to how national marathoner Soh Rui Yong and rower Saiyidah Aisyah have improved or become better while training overseas.

However, the consistent strain among all interviewed was that if the government of Singapore does not believe in its own infrastructure and systems to help our athletes become world class or be able to challenge among the elite in the world, then it is time for some serious soul searching.

“Instead of sending our athletes to a country where millions will be needed just for a few athletes, what’s necessary would be to review our systems and policies and find ways to spend taxpayers money more effectively so that we can turn more Singaporeans into world beaters right here where their family and friends are at, to back them and to provide them support. Sending them overseas is the simple and lazy option,” said the sports administrator.