SINGAPORE — On Thursday (6 Jul), Members of Parliament voted in favour of an amended Workers’ Party motion endorsing Singapore’s athletes and para-athletes, but refrained from urging the government to reassess its sports management.
The original motion put forth by Workers’ Party Members of Parliament (MP) Jamus Lim and Faisal Manap, calls on the Government to undertake a thorough evaluation of the areas of improvement in Singapore’s sporting ecosystem and commit to realising clear, achievable goals for sporting success over the coming decade.
However, Mr Darryl David, People’s Action Party Member of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio GRC, proposed amendments to the motion. These include stating that the government would instead “continue its comprehensive evaluation” and changing “specific, attainable goals for sporting success” to “our goals in sports.”
Workers’ Party and the Progress Singapore Party voted against these two amendments.
Despite this, the motion was passed along with amendments by the PAP which holds super majority, after the five-hour long debate.
Asso. Prof Lim: Singapore underperformed in terms of sporting achievements considering its income level
In his closing speech, Associate Professor Jamus Lim (WP-Sengkang) mentioned that the Workers’ Party could not fully support Mr David’s amendments but expressed willingness to be “corrected.”
“While we accept that the government has indicated that they have performed a number of reviews and continues to monitor performance, we’ve not seen the concrete fruits of such thorough evaluations for the sporting ecosystem as a whole.”
Assoc Profs Lim also urged the government to publish a report or review documenting these efforts.
He also stated that the party did not support the other amendment because it undermines one of the fundamental aspects of sporting performance, which is appropriately defining success.
“It is important to have clarity on what our goals are, and ideally set up not only eventual but also intermediate targets that we can credibly achieve.”
“Accepting the amendment also robs us of being able to meet the sort of mass participation goals that we alluded to that are imminently achievable. We also doubt that the government would be comfortable with such ambiguity for other endeavours.”
In his opening speech, Assoc Prof Lim stated that Singapore has unfortunately underperformed in terms of sporting achievements, considering its income level. He mentioned that the country has consistently deteriorated in this regard.
“We do not only appear to systematically under-invest in sport, we also appear to under-achieve relative to how much we put in,” he said.
“Hence, the issue is how much more effective can we be with the monies we devote currently already to sport?”
“What explains our nation’s anomalous outcomes? As it turns out, money alone is not enough. Countries that have prioritised sporting achievement, including at the highest level, know that this prioritisation is what is important.”
“Regular and consistent” evaluations conducted within Singapore’s sports ecosystem, claims Eric Chua
In response, Mr Eric Chua, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) defended that regular and consistent evaluations are conducted within Singapore’s high-performance sports ecosystem.
Mr Chua supported the amended motion proposed by Mr David, instead of the original WP’s motion.
“Through our review, we examine what has worked, what has not worked, what we could do differently and chart our future priorities,” he claimed.
“Our goal is to win – of course. But we must accurately define what ‘winning’ is, while recognising that we cannot compete directly with countries that have large populations,” he added that ‘winning’ should also not be limited to medals.
Although Singapore cannot directly compete with countries that have larger populations, it has performed well in various sports, such as swimming, sailing, table tennis, badminton, and silat.
Recalling a past conversation with national badminton player Loh Kean Yew regarding the expectations of Singaporeans, Mr. Chua called for greater sensitivity and support from the country.
“The weight of an entire nation’s expectations was squarely on this young man’s shoulders, and he was fully aware of that. Perhaps overly so.”
He called Singaporeans to “not forget that it is not all just about medals”, “Rather, it is about journeying with our athletes as they work through their daily struggles in realising their maximum potential.”
Assoc Prof Lim: “Let’s not be afraid to accept the reality”
Associate Professor Lim acknowledged the importance of government support in the success of athletes but also raised concerns about those who do not achieve success.
“The examples that (Mr Chua) cites often smell of selection bias and we are left to wonder what could have happened. For our level of income and what we spend, why is it that we underperform as a nation?”
He added: “Even as we rightly celebrate the success, let’s not be afraid to accept the reality of how, unlike our successes in other national endeavours… we simply fall short when it comes to sport.”
PAP MP said government has already made significant improvement in sports
Poh Li San, PAP MP for Sembawang GRC, shared a four-pronged approach she had previously proposed to strengthen Singapore’s competitive sports system.
This approach includes focusing on a select few key sports, identifying young talents, providing nurturing through training, and supporting athletes during challenging periods.
Ms Poh emphasized that both the government and stakeholders need to show commitment and make continuous efforts to implement these strategies.
Ms Poh also highlighted that the government has already made significant investments of around S$70 million (US$52 million) annually in the High-Performance Sports system.
“These are significant investments to assist our high-performance athletes with conducive training environment, and to provide some financial support for them to train and compete at major competitions.”
Eric Chua suggested two ways to support athletes
In line with Ms Poh’s remarks, Mr Chua suggested two ways in which corporations can contribute to supporting athletes.
Firstly, through donations to the One Team Singapore Fund, financial support can be provided to enhance athletes’ training environments and increase their opportunities to participate in competitions.
Secondly, corporations can join the spexBusiness network, which aids current and former TeamSG athletes in pursuing meaningful careers while effectively managing their sporting commitments.
Mr Chua emphasized that these initiatives will assist current and former TeamSG athletes in striking a balance between their sports careers and pursuing fulfilling professional paths.
Gerald Giam’s call to shift the youth sports development paradigm
WP MP for Aljunied GRC, Gerald Giam highlighted student-athletes’ limitations in mainstream schools, particularly in terms of fixed timetables that do not cater specifically to athletes’ needs.
According to Mr Giam, these rigid timetables make it challenging for student-athletes to balance their extensive training hours and participation in overseas competitions.
Although some schools allow student-athletes to skip a week of classes for international competitions, Mr Giam noted that this absence from lessons negatively impacts their studies.
“With this reality in play, we should not be surprised that we continue to have a narrow pipeline of world-class athletes.”
“Given that many high-performance athletes are of school-going age, if nothing is done to shift the youth sports development paradigm, we will continue to see many budding sports stars eventually fizzle out after they complete secondary school.”
NCMP Leong Mun Wai highlighted the need for greater flexibility in National Service (NS) obligations
PSP’s Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leong Mun Wai highlighted the need for greater flexibility in National Service (NS) obligations, stating that it would have a significant impact on the sporting careers of male athletes.
Mr Leong expressed concern that many Singaporeans are worried about the fact that male foreigners can obtain citizenship without serving NS, while Singaporean male sports talents are unable to fully pursue their sporting aspirations due to NS obligations.
“In the area of sports, PSP supports allowing a small number of our most talented male athletes to receive long deferments for NS, so that they can reach their full athletic potential and maximise the opportunity to bring glory to our nation.”
He emphasized that policies regarding these deferments should be determined through a national dialogue, and he believed it was timely to discuss how the criteria for such deferments can better support young Singaporean male athletes in their pursuit of sporting success.
Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Mark Chay responded to the discussion on NS deferments by expressing his belief in the importance of National Service, stating that it is a crucial obligation for every male Singaporean.
Mr Chay pointed out that the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) has already implemented measures to support national athletes in pursuing their athletic endeavours before enlisting. These measures include both short-term and long-term deferments.
He highlighted that MINDEF has actively engaged with national sports associations to discuss NS and the various schemes in place to assist athletes.
“I believe these schemes are fair and our athletes have been very receptive to the flexibility given to them to train, prepare, and compete.”