Wednesday 24 June 2015

SNOC keen to help athletes juggle NS and sports

Tan Chuan-Jin urges greater flexibility to help achieve a balance
By May Chen, The Straits Times, 23 Jun 2015

THE Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) is keen to help athletes with the potential to perform on sport's biggest stages juggle their national service (NS) and sporting commitments.

SNOC president Tan Chuan-Jin, in a blog posted on the council website yesterday, called for a closer working relationship with the Ministry of Defence to explore if more flexible solutions can be worked out for sportsmen on a case-by-case basis.

He said: "We do not need a blanket agreement. But can we work out local solutions with (army) units? And that might be workable, as they have some flexibility there.

"If the commander feels he can accommodate, he can make the call, why not? So try to explore that and work closely with army units and Home Team and see how to make it more accommodating."

But NS cannot be seen as a "non-factor", warned Mr Tan, who is also Minister for Social and Family Development and held the rank of brigadier-general before joining politics in 2011.

Speaking yesterday on the sidelines of a panel discussion run by sociopolitical website Inconvenient Questions at the National University of Singapore, he added that finding a balance between NS and the pursuit of elite sports is an ongoing issue.

"It's not about wishing it away, but how do we work with the system as it is," said Mr Tan.

To "push the boundaries", he had questioned in the blog post if more athletes can defer NS.

Currently, only Joseph Schooling, who won nine golds at the recent SEA Games and whose gold at the Asiad last year was a first in 32 years in Singapore men's swimming, has successfully earned deferment for a longer period.

The 20-year-old was due for enlistment this year, but was granted deferment until August next year to allow him to focus on training for the 2016 Olympics.

It is understood that plans are also afoot to facilitate fellow swimmer Quah Zheng Wen's application for deferment. Quah was the most bemedalled athlete at the SEA Games with 12 medals.

Previously, others such as national long jump record holder Matthew Goh, who in 2011 requested to defer his NS by three months to take part in the Asian and World Junior Athletics Championships, were denied.

Said Mr Tan: "The question now is do we expand that space (for more deferments)... So you adjust your threshold, so that those who are promising - and you have to define what promising means - therefore may have the possibility of deferment?"

He also questioned if greater flexibility can be given to those who do not get deferment, so that NS can be worked around the needs of an athlete's training schedule in the lead-up to major competitions, such as what took place in the lead-up to the SEA Games. Currently, the SAF Sportsmen Scheme allows national athletes to take time off from their duties to train or compete.

"Could they still clock in the hours, and as much as possible, coming closer to (major Games), are there things you could do to afford them more targeted training?" he asked.

The sports fraternity has for years argued that military conscription is an untimely obligation that poses a roadblock to the progress of sportsmen, very often stunting their progress or taking them out of sport altogether.

Countries such as South Korea and Russia face similar issues, but grant long deferments and even waivers to athletes who achieve notable results, such as winning an Olympic medal.

To find a balance, the conversation needs to be ongoing, said Mr Tan, adding: "There are existing programmes and arrangements, and for us, it's to constantly look at those and see how we are able to adjust and improve it if we can."

Part One of the panel discussion will be released on on Friday.

As the discussion on NS deferment is reignited, we ask Dr Ben Tan (NMP, Olympian, Asian and four-time SEA Games Gold...
Posted by Inconvenient Questions on Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Foreign talent scheme still proving controversial
Scheme reflective of sporting world, must be viewed in perspective, say panellists
By Low Lin Fhoong, TODAY, 23 Jun 2015

It accounts for only 2.5 per cent of the 1,400 carded Singapore national athletes, but the Foreign Sports Talent (FST) scheme is still proving to be a controversial issue among Singapore’s sporting fraternity. In recent years, the call has sounded for an end to the FST scheme, particularly after Singapore’s successes at regional events.

This includes the Republic’s recent success at the 28th SEA Games, in which its 747-strong athlete contingent posted the country’s best-ever performance at the biennial meet with a total of 259 medals — the most of all 11 participating countries — comprising 84 gold, 73 silver and 102 bronze.

Speaking at a dialogue at the University Town last night entitled “Singapore Sports — Ready to go Solo?” which was organised by sociopolitical site IQ, Sport Singapore CEO Lim Teck Yin, who was one of the panellists along with Singapore Sailing Federation president Benedict Tan and Minister for Social and Family Development and Singapore National Olympic Council president Tan Chuan-Jin, said it had to be viewed in perspective.

“The foreign talent scheme is more pronounced in certain sports, for netball you have one player, for table tennis there are more,” said Lim, who stressed that retired national table tennis player Wang Yuegu is an example of a FST athlete who has assimilated well into Singapore society.

“This is also reflective of the state of sports in the world, if you look at the world championships and Olympics, there are a lot of table tennis players born in China.”

Minister Tan added: “The foreign talent focus is always on table tennis ... but they have also inspired many young players to take up the sport. If we want to bring them in, it has to be suitable talent, and not use it as an easy way out. If it is, then we have lost the plot.”

The wide-ranging two-hour dialogue, which was chaired by IQ founder and editor-in-chief Viswa Sadasivan, also touched the role of the Singapore Sports School in producing talent, National Service as a factor in top male athletes’ sporting careers.

Ensuring what had to be done to Singapore’s remarkable performance at the 2015 SEA Games will not become a one-off, and the role that the Government, Sports School and institutions of higher learning can do to help that, was also discussed.

Building and sustaining a sporting culture also proved a hot topic yesterday, with many lauding the spirit and support shown by some 500,000 fans who turned out across the 31 venues during the recent June 5 to 16 SEA Games.

With about 39 per cent of Singapore’s 84 golds at the SEA Games won by current or former student-athletes from the Sports School, two-time silat world champion Sheik Alau’ddin urged the school to expand its six-year curriculum, which includes through-train programmes to tertiary institutions.

“I would like to see the sports school not only offer education to Secondary four or five and polytechnic,” he said. “Why not extend it right up to university, and they can create Olympic champions from the Sports School.”

Others, such as former sprinter U K Shyam and ex-national swimmer Mark Chay, called on the universities to improve on and emulate the United States’ National Collegiate Athletic Association’s competitive environment by attracting top athletic talents to local institutions to compete and train among the local athletes.

Added Lim: “By attracting world-class talents here and being in the system, it raises standards, and when you have real competition, they really level up. (Local) universities have been very forthcoming. But whether we create an (sporting) atmosphere or culture ... it’s whether we have a critical mass of athletes.”

While many ideas have been mooted and discussed to help Singaporean sportsmen attain success at the SEA Games and beyond, Minister Tan stressed that the onus for sporting success lies with Singaporeans.

“We provide the support system and so the options are exercised, but that last mile has to be walked by you (the people),” he said.

“It isn’t just the SEA Games that has allowed us to see this surge and we should take it further. Sports is at an exciting time, let’s see how we can ride this momentum, and how we can as Singaporeans contribute to that space.”

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