09 March 2011

Singapore athlete support schemes


SINGAPORE - National Service (NS) and the Foreign Sports Talent (FST) scheme, two subjects that consistently come up for debate in sports circles, were discussed in Parliament yesterday.

Speaking during the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) Committee of Supply Debate, Member of Parliament Lee Bee Wah pointed to statistics that showed male paddlers accounting for 34 gold medals out of the 74 won at the last three Commonwealth and Asian Games.

"From 2002 to 2010 only 15 male gold medallists were below 30 ... that is less than two per year. The number is very small and I think it (deferment and possible exemption) is worth exploring and implementing."

Lee, president of the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA), suggested male athletes be allowed to defer their NS, possibly to when they turn 30.

She even suggested athletes be exempted from NS if they achieve gold medal success at the Commonwealth or Asian Games, or a medal at the Olympics.

Responding, Teo Ser Luck, MCYS Senior Parliamentary Secretary, said: "MCYS and Mindef have made efforts to minimise the impact of NS on sporting development of our top male athletes and their preparation for major competitions. The SAF Sportsmen Scheme allows athletes with strong medal potential time off and Full-Pay Unrecorded Leave during their full-time NS, to train and participate in major competitions."

Teo cited the example of national sailor Justin Liu, who was granted deferment by Mindef to train for last November's Asian Games in Guangzhou. Liu, 19, and partner Sherman Cheng, also 19, won gold in the boys 470 event.

"Mindef also considers on a case by case basis where athletes may delay enlistment to prepare, or (seek) deferment. I can't speak for Mindef on exemption, but I think that is something that you may want to raise with Mindef to consider."

Nominated MP Joscelin Yeo, the most successful athlete in the history of the SEA Games with 40 gold medals, asked Teo if the FST scheme had any impact on the development of Singapore-born talent. The former swim star wondered if MCYS would "consider putting a cap on the ratio of foreign talents to locals", to encourage national sports associations (NSAs) to develop and improve their youth development programmes.

Stressing that the MCYS were committed to nurturing local youth, Teo pointed out that there were only 33 foreign-born athletes in the total number of 994 in the country's national squads. Citing the success of Youth Olympic Games silver medallist (table tennis) and Singapore Sports School graduate Isabelle Li, Teo said the ministry had invested close to S$80 million in the Sports School over the last five years and would pump in another S$20 million for FY2011.

"Going forward, we'll continue to identify and develop our youth sporting talents. Through the Singapore Sports School and planned Singapore Sports Institute, we'll provide holistic support to our top sporting talents to help them realise their potential," he added.

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