Andrew Loh / Deputy Editor

The Paralympics has never really interested Singaporeans – until now. Yip Pin Xiu, the 16-year old with muscular dystrophy, has made sure that the nation took notice. Yip won the gold medal in the 50m backstroke and the silver in the 50m freestyle in Beijing.

It is an awesome achievement by Yip and for Singapore and we should all be very very proud of her indeed.

It would be most unfortunate if Singaporeans compared her with the table-tennis team which recently won the silver medal at the Olympics, also held in Beijing, and use this to bash the Government for whatever reasons. Already, there are some who are questioning the disparity in rewards given to the two. The table-tennis team members were rewarded with $200,000 each for their silver medals while Yip received $100,000 for her achievements.

It would dishonour Yip and her achievement if she was made to be a pawn in such a debate.

Having said that, however, it is time that the Government gave more appropriate recognition to all athletes – be they Olympic or Paralympic winners, or otherwise.

We should reward those like Yip adequately.

Channel NewsAsia reported that:

The country’s disabled athletes won four medals – including a gold – at the Paralympics. However, their combined cash reward is not on par with the amount given out for just one silver medal at the Beijing Olympics.

As for Yip, Channel NewsAsia said:

She will be awarded S$100,000, just one-tenth of what an able-bodied athlete can get for a gold medal.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Teo Ser Luck, explained that the difference is the scale of the two competitions. While I do not disagree with him, I feel that whether it is the Olympics or the Paralympics, the effort put in by the athletes would be the same. I do not think that the Paralympians are any less committed than the Olympians. But what is disconcerting to me is what Mr Teo said later:

He added that the rewards were given out by the private sector, and that the Paralympians were only recently given this award.

Thus, if the private sector had not put up the rewards, Yip and her winning colleagues would have been rewarded with … nothing? Pressed by NMP Eunice Olsen on whether the Government would consider “topping up the reward”, Mr Teo said that, in future, “cash rewards would still be solicited from the private sector and community.” It would thus seem that the Government would not be contributing monetary rewards to these Paralympics athletes. It makes one wonder why.

Another point to note: The Straits Times on 17 September 2008 reported that Yip’s $100,000 comes from “the Singapore National Paralympic Council [SNPC] through its Athletes Achievement Awards.” Isn’t the SNPC under the Ministry of Community, Youth and Sports?

Whatever it is, the Government should seriously consider dipping into its pockets to reward athletes fairly and equitably, and not leave this to the private sector and community. After all, sports excellence is a goal which the Government has set for Singapore. Why then, when excellence is achieved, does the Government take a step back and refuse to give rewards?

In spite of all these questions of disparity, and hopefully the Government will relent and come up with some equitable system of rewards, we should, in the meantime, congratulate Yip Pin Xiu and express our gratitude and pride in her achievements.

Hers is an inspirational story of living in the present and doing one’s best in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

Congrats to her coach, Ang Peng Siong, too.

Awesome job!

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