Lee Bee Wah, MP

MP Lee Bee Wah asks for a transparent policy on NS deferment for male athletes

Er Dr Lee Bee Wah, Member of Parliament of Nee Soon GRC, made a passionate call for more support from the government for athletes in light of the recent medals won by local athletes in the Olympic and Paralympics.

Ms Lee highlighted four reasons in Parliament on Tuesday which she felt were hampering Singapore from becoming a sporting nation.

Govt’s stance on live telecast of sporting events

Ms Lee pointed out that Singapore nearly lost the opportunity to watch Joseph Schooling win the gold medal in his swimming event at the Rio Olympics as the deal to live broadcast the Olympics was only confirmed days before the sporting event.

She noted that Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), Grace Fu had said that the delayed broadcast would be a different way of celebration when asked whether the government to intervene in the bid for live broadcast.

She highlighted that members of public all know that a live telecast and a delayed broadcast “is miles apart”. Despite saying that the government is in support of developing a sporting culture in Singapore, Ms Lee noted that the government was not ready to fork out money for the live broadcast of the Olympics.

She pointed that such matters should not be left for commercial decisions and bodies such as the government, broadcasters and telcos should come together to pull resources and planned ahead of time for such negotiations of broadcasting live sporting events, especially those which have Singapore athletes competing in them.

NS liability for male athletes

Ms Lee noted that she has heard from May, mother of Joseph Schooling in an earlier meeting before the family left for America about the deferment of National Service for Schooling as the main difficulty for the family.

Despite submission of documents of Schooling for Schooling’s NS deferment, there had been no concrete reply from the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF). Ms Lee said that this gives an impression of highhandedness by MINDEF and on the other side, this also ives an impression that MCCY has no power. She further said that civil servants think that an Olympic medal is not important.

When Schooling was competing in the Olympics, he had to think about whether he  will need to serve NS when he returns to Singapore. Fortunately, as Ms Lee put it, Schooling managed to transform the pressure he was under into power to win his gold medal.

Ms Lee pointed out that it was after 3 years of deferment application that MINDEF finally changed its policy to allow two of the athletes, Schooling and Quah Zheng Wen to defer till end of the next Olympics.

Ms Lee said that this could be done better with a transparent policy with athletes knowing what they are expected to achieve in their sports in order to be granted a deferment.

She also suggested that athelets can choose to defer their NS to be served before the age of 30 years old. Pointing that South Korean, with its similar conscription laws, allows athelets with significant achievements to be exempted from military service, with only 4 weeks of combat training.

Given that Singapore’s pool of sporting talent is already small, she beseech to look at allowing athletes such as Schooling and Quah to choose their deferment period.

Ms Lee quoted the comments by Asia’s flying fish, Ang Peng Siong in an earlier interview by Yahoo that athelets need one or two Olympic cycle to realise their Olympic dreams.

Minister Grace Fu in her response to Ms Lee, clarified that there is indeed a matrix in which athletes are gauged upon to determine whether or not they can be granted a deferment, and noted that Schooling would have been granted a deferment by MINDEF even if he achieved only a bronze medal. She noted that such information will be revealed to the athelets at the appropriate time.

Funding for sports

Ms Lee said that many would have known that Schooling’s family have spent more than a million dollars to nurture him up as a sporting talent and not many families are able to do the same. She asked if the government could do more about the issue, to enhance the training programme for athletes and set aside funding for athletes who show potential. Such as sending athletes overseas for attachment where they can be given opportunity for more competition in their sports.

Ms Lee also asked that the training programme and fundings for the Paralympians to be increased accordingly with the other athletes.

Sporting culture in schools

Ms Lee pointed out that a sporting culture has to start from school as she recalled her days at school playing sports till the skies turned dark.

She asked a principal about how students are encouraged to take up sports and the principal said that the students can play sports during recess period, which she highlighted was merely 30 minutes and the students had to allow consume their meal during this period of time.

She said that a sporting culture is not about winning inter-school competitions but for schools to develop a passion for sports.