Saturday 14 July 2012

Community Games 2012: Winning way to forge community bonds

Community Games offers a variety of roles for 10,000 participants
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 13 Jul 2012

EVERYONE is a winner in the inaugural Community Games.

While there is an element of good, clean and fun competition in the seven sports offered, there is also room for others to play supporting roles such as volunteers or officials.

The Community Games, which replaces the Inter-Constituency Games launched in 1972, has drawn 1,087 teams comprising about 10,000 participants aged between seven and 79. They have competed in the seven sports - badminton, basketball, bowling, netball, sepak takraw, football and table tennis - since April.

Organised by the People's Association (PA), the games will conclude on Sunday with the final matches for football, bowling and basketball.

A popular name to look out for is PA's chief executive director Yam Ah Mee, 55, who will be competing in a team in the 3x3 Men's Masters division in basketball.

The showdown will be at the Singapore Basketball Centre at 11am and 12.15pm on Sunday.

The Community Games, which will be held yearly, has a different playing field than the Inter-Constituency Games. Now, the island has been delineated into 15 clusters and teams compete with one another within each cluster.

The top three teams for each sport are awarded trophies as well as gold, silver or bronze medals.

The top two teams will qualify for the biennial Singapore National Games in the years when both competitions are held.

The Singapore National Games will make its debut this September.

Rules have also been imposed to foster mingling across a wider demographic.

For most sports, teams must have members from at least two ethnic groups. At least one member must live in a Housing Board flat and at least one in a private estate. The change, intended to spur flagging interest in the Inter-Constituency Games, has led to an 180 per cent rise in the number of teams from 387 last year.

'The Community Games has created more opportunities for mass participation and greater involvement of residents as participants, volunteers, supporters and officials,' said a PA spokesman.

'We hope that more will form sports interest groups, where passion can be sustained, and friendships forged.'

Team pitches in to help Filipino integrate

SUPPLY-CHAIN officer Dariel Sumagit, 26, credits football with helping him assimilate into Singapore society.

'I've come to know more people than I could have imagined, more people in my community whom I could not have met just by working in the office,' he said.

The Filipino moved here about 16 months ago and now plays left back for Queenstown Community Sports Club (CSC), which placed third in the Tanjong Pagar cluster in the Community Games.

It all started when he picked up a flier at his Housing Board flat, distributed by derivatives trader and team manager Zen Tay, 48.

'This is a catalyst for me to become involved with the community and of course to learn more about the country itself,' said Mr Sumagit, adding that team members have updated him on local practices and responsibilities such as national service.

Community Games regulations dictate that players must be aged at least 17, but some would-be players as young as 13 join Queenstown CSC for friendlies and kickabout sessions every Sunday.

The players frequently meet outside the field for meals and to celebrate occasions such as the recent Dumpling Festival.

Taxi driver Vincent Tay, 40, who takes on striker duties for the club, said: 'It is all because of football that we have been brought closer - it has led to an exchange of cultures.'

Opponents bowled over by their age

WATCH out for Ryan Koh and Jessica Chong, both 11, who may turn out to be Singapore's next sporting sensations.

For now, both are honing their skills and were among the youngest participants in their respective sport - table tennis and bowling - at the Community Games.

They are also members of the Education Ministry's Junior Sports Academies.

Ryan's table tennis passion was kindled by the 2009 Channel 8 drama Table Of Glory.

Said his mother Jean Lee, 46, a beautician: 'He actually started hitting the ball against the wall after watching the show.'

For the Community Games, the River Valley Primary pupil teamed up with Mr Simon Roberts, a 31-year-old German sales director, to play doubles.

The pair may have first met only two weeks before the competition, but they defeated their opponents - both adults - in the finals in the Tanjong Pagar cluster.

'He plays much better than some adults, in my opinion,' said Mr Roberts.

Ryan, who trains for two hours, five days a week, said: 'I wish I could one day become like China's world No.2 Ma Long.'

Meanwhile, Jessica has been hitting the lanes thrice a week.

'I am actually quite addicted to it,' she said, laughing sheepishly.

Her mother Karen Chia, 45, an auditor, has been her biggest supporter, spending some $1,200 on equipping her and turning up at all her competitive games.

Jessica has hit a high of 207, but hopes to score a perfect 300 soon.

Although her team placed fourth in the Moulmein-Kallang cluster, Jessica, a Primary 5 pupil in Methodist Girls' School, said: 'It was good competition experience because I got to learn a lot.'

Eye-opener for national shuttler

FOR Singapore national shuttler Huang Chao, 20, the Community Games were an eye-opener.

'The intense level of concentration and commitment of the players, and fighting spirit displayed, were surprising,' he said, adding that he was reminded of what he faces in professional matches.

'I really did not expect this at the community level,' said Huang, who moved to Singapore from China when he was 12 to pursue professional badminton.

He represented the Republic in the Youth Olympic Games here two years ago, scoring an upset win over a second-seeded player from India en route to the final eight in the men's singles.

Huang said that as a professional player, he does not have many chances or time to socialise outside the sporting circle. 'The Community Games were a great opportunity to meet new friends.'

Said team manager Joleen Thang, 31, a civil servant: 'I was very surprised by his dedication to the team. There was once when he rushed back from a tournament in Malaysia just to take part in a match for the Games.'

The team emerged champion in the Sembawang cluster.

Since the Community Games, Huang - whenever he has time - has been a fixture at a weekly practice session involving his Community Games teammates.

His presence has inspired teammates such as Mr Ang Wei Jun, 19, an Institute of Technical Education student.

Despite suffering from tendonitis, Mr Ang was agile on the court, retrieving difficult shots and hitting smashes at a training session for the upcoming Singapore National Games.

'Huang Chao has become a very good friend to me,' he said, adding that he hoped to defeat him in a match some day.

Chinese teen embraces Malay sport

WITH a neat roundhouse kick, the 15-year-old sepak takraw team captain launched the ball across the net.

In fluent Malay, he gave directions to his team-mates confidently, along with words of encouragement or pats on the back after each set.

This show of leadership came from Bendemeer Secondary School student Eugene Chee, who stands out in what is traditionally a Malay sport.

And if there was a sense of mission in his team, it was because they were playing in the final match for the junior division title in the Moulmein-Kallang cluster of the Community Games.

Eugene, who also speaks English and Mandarin, said: 'These games presented new challenges to me - to better my skills and to make new friends.'

The Secondary 3 student said he picked up conversational Malay partly because of the sport, and also because his close friends are Malay.

His love affair with sepak takraw began two years ago when he chanced on his friends playing the sport at a void deck.

Team member Mohammad Ezenil, 15, said he was at first taken aback that the Chinese teenager had mastered the sport.

He said: 'I feel a bit embarrassed because as a Malay, I should know more about the game. He's a Chinese who understands it better than I do.

'I hope to pick up some of the skills he has.'

For the Community Games, sepak takraw teams were exempted from rules stipulating a certain racial or housing mix among team members, since sepak takraw is a mostly Malay sport.

A People's Association spokesman who has overseen sepak takraw since the days of the Inter-Constituency Games said: 'We have increasingly seen an uptick in interest in the sport among non-Malays.'

Eugene's team was defeated in the final, but the silver medallists can still look forward to the Singapore National Games in September.

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