Mr Alex Yam Ziming: To ask the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (a) what is the current value of awards for Paralympic medallists under the Singapore National Paralympic Council Athlete Achievement Awards scheme; (b) whether more can be done to recognise the efforts of our Paralympians; and (c) whether more can be done to raise public awareness of the inspiring stories of our athletes who go through much more challenges than able-bodied athletes.
Ms Tin Pei Ling: To ask the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (a) whether the current rewards for national sports athletes are sufficient; and (b) whether the Government will consider offering equal rewards to Olympic and Paralympic gold medallists.
Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong: To ask the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (a) whether Singapore's Paralympians should be equally rewarded and recognised as our Olympians for their sporting excellence; and (b) whether disabled athletes should be accorded the same level of infrastructural, funding and training support from the Government as able-bodied athletes.
Minister Grace Fu: The Athlete Achievement Award (AAA) is managed by the Singapore National Paralympic Council (SNPC) and funded by sponsors. The scheme was initiated by the Singapore Disability Sports Council in 2002, to recognise the achievements of Team Singapore medallists at Major Games such as the Paralympics, Asian Para Games, Commonwealth Games and the ASEAN Para Games. The Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) offers the Multi-Million Dollar Award Programme (MAP) for athletes who have medalled at Major Games such as the Olympics, Asian Games and South East Asian Games since 1991.
- The SNPC and SNOC are Non-Governmental Organisations. The AAA and MAP are decided, respectively, by SNPC and the SNOC, and their sponsors. This is in line with the general convention that monetary rewards for competitions in sport are largely funded by private means through sponsorships, donations and product endorsements. There have been calls by members of the public to improve the rewards given to our athletes who have medalled (specifically Yip Pin Xiu for 2 Gold medals and Theresa Goh for 1 Bronze in the recent Rio 2016 Paralympics). I encourage the SNOC and SNPC to review the schemes with their sponsors, and for more corporations to step forward to support SNOC and SNPC on the awards.
- As Member Mr Alex Yam has suggested, beyond monetary rewards, there are other meaningful ways in which Singapore society can support and recognise the efforts of our Paralympians. Some woke up early to tune in to ‘live’ broadcasts to cheer on our Team Singapore Paralympians in Rio. When the athletes returned, Singaporeans turned out in force to welcome them at the airport and to cheer them on during the Celebration Parade.
- On the Government’s part, Yip Pin Xiu was inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame in 2015, standing alongside legends like Tan Howe Liang and Fandi Ahmad. In 2008, she was honoured with one of the nation’s highest accolades, the Meritorious Service Medal, in recognition of her first Gold medal at the Beijing Paralympics. Similarly, Joseph Schooling will be honoured with the Meritorious Service Medal for his first Olympic Gold medal at Rio.
- I agree with the Member that our para athletes demonstrate tremendous resilience and strength of spirit, and that we have much to learn from them. Sport Singapore (SportSG) has been profiling their journeys on social media and other platforms. Mediacorp has also broadcasted documentaries on Yip Pin Xiu and Theresa Goh recently in this regard. We will continue to share their inspiring stories with the public. Next month, I hope Members will join me in Parliament when I move a motion to congratulate our Paralympians for their excellent performance in Rio and celebrate their achievements.
- To put the issue in perspective, what can make a difference to our national athletes – whether Olympian or Paralympian – is the combined assistance they receive from family, the community, corporates, the public and the Government. When all stakeholders work towards a common objective, we provide a strong and sustainable eco-system of support for them to pursue their sporting aspirations. Both Joseph and Pin Xiu have shown us the importance of family support. Corporates can certainly make a difference too. Instead of just a one-off cash prize, athletes would also welcome good career opportunities that can accommodate their sporting commitments and provide greater security and dignity when they retire from their sporting career. To enable this, SportSG has the SpexBusiness Network. As part of this scheme, for example, Deloitte provides quality opportunities to our national athletes, both able-bodied and those with disabilities. I encourage corporates and well-wishers to complement the roles that the Government plays in building up a sustainable eco-system of support for all our Team Singapore athletes.
- On the Government’s part, our main role is to provide opportunities for all Singaporeans to pursue their sporting aspirations and achieve their full potential. Hence, our focus has been on providing a sustained, structured and comprehensive support system to help our Team Singapore athletes for podium positions at Major Games. Instead of focusing on post-podium rewards, we believe our role is to support our athletes upfront in their journey to the podium. We want more of them to get to the podium and bring pride to the nation. We support them through providing scholarships that pay them reasonably well to train full time. We fund the National Sports Associations (NSAs) and Singapore Sport Institute so that the athletes can be guided by experienced professional coaches, physiotherapists and sport scientists, as they constantly challenge themselves to do better, swim faster, sail faster.
- Our High Performance Sports system currently supports 1,653 carded athletes across 45 sports, at the cost of $60M annually. And we have been expanding the scale of our programme at a sustainable pace over the last few years. SportSG would not be able to help as many aspiring athletes pursue their dreams, if it had to divert resources to fund post-competition award schemes.
- The Member Mr Daniel Goh asked whether Government should provide para athletes with the same level of infrastructural, funding and training support as able-bodied athletes. The fact is that we already do. I wish to highlight three points here.
- First, we value all our Team Singapore athletes tremendously. They inspire us as a nation, not just with their sporting achievements, but through their hard work, determination, perseverance, fighting spirit and commitment to excel. These are values that the nation should embrace, and the Government is committed to nurturing our Team Singapore athletes, of all abilities, to reach their full potential.
- Second, we do not discriminate between able-bodied athlete or para athlete. The amounts of monthly payments under the spexScholarship scheme for able-bodied athletes and para athletes are the same. The “team behind the team” of sports medicine and sports science specialists, psychologists and trainers under SportSG support these two groups of athletes the same.
- Third, the support provided to Team Singapore athletes is customised according to the requirements of the sport and the differing needs of the individual athlete. Sports like equestrian, rowing or shooting may require more funding to support the transport of equipment for overseas competitions (like horses, boats and rifles). Some para athletes may need to be accompanied by a care-giver constantly. In preparation for Rio 2016, we provided more funding for our Paralympians than their Olympics counterparts in some cases.
- When Team Singapore athletes of all abilities go into the sporting arena flying our flag high, they need our full support. The Government is fully behind our athletes, and we encourage corporates and the public to also lend their support, so that we can best cheer them on together as One Team Singapore.