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Celebrating 10 years of spexScholarship

Speech by Mr Edwin Tong, Minister of Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister of Law, at the 10th spexScholarship presentation ceremony on 12 April 2023 at Bank of Singapore Lounge, National Stadium

Mr Kon Yin Tong, Chairman of SportSG,

Athletes and their Family, 

Ladies and Gentlemen.

  1. Thank you for joining us here today. 
  2. I am very delighted to be with you at this ceremony as we celebrate this 10th anniversary of the spexScholarship award. 

    Celebrating 10 years of spexScholarship

  3. Singapore’s High Performance Sports (HPS) system is designed to enable and push our TeamSG athletes to maximise their potential to perform at their very best, reach the pinnacle of performance and to put Singapore on the world’s most important sporting platforms.
    1. The success of the system comes in several thrusts and hinges on the collective efforts by its many stakeholders - athletes themselves, partners, coaches, sponsors, Singapore Sport Institute (SSI) and the entire sporting ecosystem. To our athletes and families, I know you have put in tremendous effort and made many sacrifices that have shown the utmost dedication you have to your sport.
    2. A key part of this ecosystem is the Sport Excellence Scholarship, also known as the spexScholarship, which is exclusively offered to top athletes who have the potential to excel at Major Games or at world-level events.
  4. Today, we mark the 10th year anniversary of the spexScholarship. Allow me to look back on the past ten years. 
    1. The spexScholarship has reaped impressive dividends in the last ten years with TeamSG, powered by the spexScholars, making several breakthroughs in the international arena.
    2. During this time, our spexScholars achieved a total of 47 podium finishes at the Asian and Olympic Games and their para-equivalents,
      1. and, in the process, accomplished the remarkable feat of breaking 61 records at the Southeast Asian and Asian Games.
      2. We made waves around the world, when Joseph Schooling, who not only won an Olympic Gold medal, also set an Olympic record at the 2016 Rio Games, and earned Singapore our first ever Olympic Gold medal.
      3. More recently, at the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi last year, 43 of the 47 spexScholars who competed in the Games brought home at least one medal, with 22 winning at least one Gold.
    3. Over the past decade, the spexScholarship has supported the sporting dreams of 211 individuals, both para-athletes and able-bodied athletes, across 31 sports, and produced 13 World Champions with a total of 25 World Championship titles. These are all achievements that we are all tremendously proud of. 
  5. One of the success stories under the spexScholarship is that of Kimberly Lim from Sailing. 
    1. Like some of the athletes present today, Kimberly has been a spexScholar since the start of the programme in 2013. She met her current teammate, Cecilia Low, also a spexScholar, in 2014.
      1. It was the start of a very productive partnership. At the duo’s premier Asian Games in 2018, they emerged first in all 15 races of the 49erFX race category, securing Singapore’s first gold medal for the sport in the Asian Games. 
      2. Kimberly and Cecilia also became the first Singaporean sailors to progress into the medal race and finishing 10th in the same class at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games – the best result that Singapore Sailing has ever achieved. I have had the honour and privilege of being right there when they came out of the water and realised that they have made it to the medal race. That was such a special moment.
      3. It is these moments that we live for, that we seek, that we aspire towards and gain inspiration from. 
    2. It brings me great joy to see Kimberly and Cecilia achieve their sporting goals and continue on their sporting journey, and continue to do their best. 
  6. At the same time, the spexScholarship programme is crucial to the development of our top athletes, those at the top of their game who are trying to break through, break the ceiling, push forward, and break new ground.

    Impact of spexScholarship in developing athletes 

  7. Let me share about Shanti Pereira, who was recently in the news the last couple of weeks. 
    1. After returning to the SpexScholarship programme last November, which grants her an allowance and benefits such as enhanced sport science and sport medicine support, 
      1. Shanti now trains full time and travels to compete in major competitions overseas. 
    2. Her decision to go full-time has paid off well; at the recent Australian Track and Field Open in Brisbane, within a span of three days, Shanti broke the 100m national record twice and also set a new national record for the 200m. All in a span of three days. 
    3. We are delighted with Shanti’s breakthrough achievements and look forward to even more promising performances from her at the coming Major Games. 
    4. All this is with the support of the spexScholarship, but at the end of the day, as Shanti herself says, it is through personal sacrifices, utmost dedication, and the support of the village of family and coaches. All of these play a key role, coming together to produce the champions of Singapore.
  8. I am very heartened that the spexScholarship has made a significant impact in supporting athletes such as Shanti to go faster, go higher, be stronger, and perform better. 

    Continuing to support the next generation of Sport Champions

  9. The impressive performances by the spexScholars at the Major Games and international competitions are a testament to the effectiveness of the HPS system, with all parts coming together to help our athletes do well and attain podium success.
  10. I am proud that our spexScholars have consistently lived up to the prestige as TeamSG’s elite band of athletes consistently display tenacity and resilience, being graceful in defeat, and resilient in victory.
    1. Through the spexScholarship, and the range of support we have at SSI and in the sporting ecosystem, we remain strongly committed to developing and supporting our best athletes in their sporting journeys as they continue to achieve and soar to greater heights. 

    2023 spexScholarship awardees and new milestones

  11. Today, I am proud to award the 2023 spexScholarships to 33 athletes from 11 sports, bringing the total number of spexScholars to 105 across 24 sports.
    1. The ceremony this year marks the largest cohort of spexScholars in the last 10 years. 
      1. We have also received significantly more applications this year - two-thirds more than last year - which is a strong indication of the appeal of the spexScholarship and the value TeamSG athletes see in receiving the spexScholarship. 
  12. I am also especially happy to welcome our 33 new scholars to the spexScholarship programme. 
    1. We have seen outstanding performances from these promising new recipients at the Major Games and also at international competitions last year, and 
    2. they thoroughly deserve this award, which will provide them the inspiration and the much needed support for them to pursue their goals, as they continue to do us proud on international stages.  

    Supporting Sporting Excellence beyond Major Games 

  13. Last year, we extended the spexScholarship to indoor skydiver Kyra Poh, marking the first time the programme has supported an athlete competing at the world level in a sport that does not feature in the Major Games.
    1. Let me share more about Kyra. She is the current World Champion for Freestyle Open and has won over 45 gold medals over 10 years of indoor skydiving. 
    2. True to the expectations of a spexScholar, after she got the spexScholarship last year, Kyra continued to excel, where she and her team brought home 4 gold medals at the recent Czech Open in Prague earlier on in February this year. 
    3. Kyra is not with us this morning, as she and her team are preparing to compete at the World Indoor Skydiving Championships in Slovakia. I am very confident that the scholarship will support to support her in her sport as she goes around the world to do her sport, flying our flag high. 
  14. We will continue to support athletes like her, and continue to recognise and encourage sporting excellence in sport disciplines even beyond the Major Games, and continue to welcome more diverse and emerging sports to the spexScholarship programme.
  15. In that spirit, this year, I would like to welcome to the spexScholarship, our first athlete from open water swimming - Chantal Liew.
    1. Chantal made history as the first Singaporean to swim in Open Water at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
  16. With this addition of Open Swimming, the spexScholarship now covers 24 sports - a number we hope to see increase in the coming years, for sports within and also beyond Major Games. 
  17. Let me also welcome our new spexScholar Para Swimmer Wong Zhi Wei. 
    1. After winning two gold medals at the Solo 2022 ASEAN Para Games, Zhi Wei is training hard to compete at the upcoming ASEAN and Asian Para Games and looking to qualify for his dream - the Paris 2024 Paralympics. 
    2. I am glad that the spexScholarship programme will play a part, alongside the village of support, to provide him with the additional support, inspiration, and spur as he continues to work towards his dream of becoming a true, full-fledged Paralympian swimmer. 

    Concurrently serve National Service and be spexScholarship holders 

  18. We recognise, at the same time, the commitment of our male athletes. Many of our male athletes who are in our spexScholarship programme do well, but when they reach a certain age and enlist for National Service, we stop this support of the spexScholarship.
    1. But increasingly, we see many of our athletes go through National Service and continue to fly our flag while still in National Service. 
    2. We want to make a commitment to recognise our male athletes even as they go through their National Service. 
  19. It brings me great pleasure to announce that from this year, spexScholars who are entering National Service will remain on the spexScholarship, as long as they continue to deliver and perform.
    1. National Service, on its own, will not be a bar to an athlete from receiving the spexScholarship. 
      1. This year, with this revision, we will see the return of our Full-Time NSmen – swimmers Darren Chua, Jonathan Tan and Quah Zheng Wen - as spexScholars.
  20. Zheng Wen, in particular, has been a spexScholar for the past 9 years and we have seen the trajectory he has been over the past 9 years, and even before, performing well at the Southeast Asian Games and Asian Games and flying the Singapore flag high at the Rio 2016 Olympics.
  21. Like every Singaporean son, Zheng Wen enlisted for NS in September 2021 after his deferment period. While that put a stop to his spexScholarship, he continued to train and compete at a high level. And with this revision, athletes like Zheng Wen will continue to remain competitive and we will support them to continue to remain competitive during National Service.


  22. Please join me in expressing our heartiest congratulations to all our spexScholars, the new scholars joining the programme, as well as the existing scholars returning to the programme.
    1. They have dedicated true commitment, passion, and hard work, and indeed have that potential to perform at the highest level, and to fly the Singapore flag high and bring glory to Singapore. 
    2. Whether you are Elle Koh, the youngest new spexScholar at 15 from Fencing to Peter Gilchrist, the eldest, at 55, from Cuesports, it shows us that age is truly just a number if you aspire to the goals. I am confident that the spexScholarship will continue to support the goals, dreams, and aspirations of our sporting talents.
  23. With the Phnom Penh Southeast Asian Games and ASEAN Para Games, Hangzhou Asian and Asian Para Games around the corner and various international sporting events also happening this year, 2023 sets up to be a busy, highly competitive but very fulfilling year for our athletes. 
    1. In less than a month’s time, we will send 59 of our spexScholars to Phnom Penh for the Southeast Asian Games. I am certain that like other editions of the SEA Games, our spexScholars will be motivated to train even harder in these last few weeks in the lead up to the Games, and to meet their performance targets and aspirations and bring pride to Singapore.
    2. I wish all our athletes, over all Games, over this period of time including the qualification period for Paris 2024, the very best in their preparations. Continue to look forward, aim high, and continue to be that inspiration. You have been an inspiration to many athletes, especially the younger athletes, who look up to your success and achievements. 
  24. As you continue to work hard, we will continue to do our part to support, and monitor the performances of athletes, including our debutants who have achieved outstanding results at Major Games and world level events, to see how we can better support their sporting aspirations. 
  25. Congratulations once again to all our spexScholars. Thank you, our coaches, family members and each and every one of you present for being part of that village, supporting our athletes and their aspirations as they bring glory to Singapore. 
  26. Thank you.
Last updated on 17 April 2023