Friday, 22 May 2015

Touch Football: Singapore find finishing touch again

Consecutive podium finishes at World Cup a boost to efforts to grow sport
By Lim Ching Ying, The Straits Times, 21 May 2015

THEY do not get any government funding but the 15 women in Singapore's touch rugby team have brought glory to the nation by finishing third at two consecutive world championships.

After winning a bronze in the 2011 Edinburgh edition, Singapore repeated that feat on May 3 in the Touch World Cup in Sydney, finishing behind champions Australia and runners-up New Zealand.

They beat South Africa 7-2 in the bronze-medal match. A total of 14 teams participated in their women's open division.

"These girls have done the country proud, as far as I'm concerned," said Singapore's assistant coach Maureen Thomson.

"Touch is really a sport we can do well in," said team captain Jeslyn Lim. She has represented Singapore at four Touch World Cups and will also compete in the rugby 7s at next month's SEA Games.

She added: "We've got the speed and we can find players where size doesn't have to matter."

Touch Singapore founder Bryan O'Connor, 52, agreed, saying: "Touch is a leveller because it's based on teamwork and skill and where brute force or physicality don't offer any clear advantage."

Singapore also have a slight edge as touch is played year-round here while it is a summer sport overseas.

Singapore achieved their bronze-medal feat despite having a youthful squad with most players below 24 years of age.

"It was our strong defence and team spirit that pulled us through all the way," added Lim, 39.

Thomson, 44, recalled: "I told them, 'Don't come off the field without grass stains on your shirt', then they really went for it."

Singapore's current accolades in touch are impressive, considering that development programmes here began only in 1997.

"Touch is a sport where Asians are playing against Westerners, and winning," says O'Connor, who started Touch Singapore a year after Singapore made their debut with a single mixed team at the 1999 edition.

Touch is normally played by six-a-side teams on grass. Players pass an oval-shaped ball, which is smaller than a rugby ball, to one another in a bid to score touchdowns.

The opponents aim to touch but not tackle the player with the ball and possession is earned after six touches.

Touch has grown from a recreational pastime introduced by Australian and New Zealand expatriates to a sport with three nationwide leagues spanning two to three months each.

It has come a long way from the scene 15 years ago, which comprised only a summer and winter touch league.

February's National Touch Championships attracted an estimated 700 players. O'Connor said teams had to be turned away due to the lack of field space.

But this "happy problem" is not deterring him from restarting educational programmes for touch, particularly in primary and secondary schools.

He notes that most local players pick up touch only when they are in tertiary institutions or working.

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Touch is part of the Singapore University Games, Polytechnic-Institute of Technical Education Games and Institute-Varsity-Polytechnic Games. All 12 participating institutions offer the sport.

It is also contested at the schools' A Division level and regional meets such as the Asian All Schools Championships.

O'Connor also wants to improve the pipeline that produces coaches and referees. There are currently 53 qualified coaches and 80 active referees who have been accredited under the Federation of International Touch.

Yet, as touch remains women-only in many meets, O'Connor hopes to rectify this situation too.

He points out: "Boys in Australia and New Zealand play touch more than, say, contact rugby. It's not a girls-only game."

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