Govt invests over S$70 million in High Performance System yearly to support S'pore athletes: Edwin Tong

The Singapore government provides both monetary and non-monetary support.

Sulaiman Daud | January 12, 2022, 04:54 PM

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Minister for Culture, Community & Youth Edwin Tong said that the government supports local athletes in a "holistic" manner, and gave a thorough breakdown of that support in both monetary and non-monetary terms.

Tong's speech in Parliament on Jan. 12 comes after national shuttler Loh Kean Yew made history by winning a world championship in badminton, but did not receive any prize money for it.

Tong was responding to two questions filed by PAP Members of Parliament Xie Yao Quan and Poh Li San, who asked about the support and assistance provided to Singapore athletes and plans to attract world class coaching talent, among others.

Funding and personalised support for elite athletes

Tong began by emphasising that the government is committed to the principle of supporting accessibility of sports for the general public.

"Over the last three years, we have invested an average of almost S$90 million each year to develop and operate stadiums, running tracks, sports halls and other venues that are accessible to the general public," he said.

In addition, the government also provides extensive support for elite athletes who participate in competitions.

The High Performance System (HPS) nurtures elite athletes and provides them with end-to-end support and development.

It is administered by the Singapore Sport Institute (SSI) and the National Youth Sport Institute (NYSI) and boasts personalised training, able to assess and maximise the strengths and potential of individual athletes.

One of its key features is the Daily Training Environment, where support such as coaching, counselling, sport science and medicine is provided.

"The government invests in the system, and continually enhances it so that our athletes will be supported and developed in a way that best addresses their individual needs and maximises their potential. The focus is on enabling each athlete to be at their best, do their best, and succeed against the best."

Tong stated that the government invests around S$70 million in the HPS each year.

Over the past five years, this investment has funded things like new technological systems for sports science facilities, building world-class training facilities and undertaking research and development.

For example, after the Badminton World Federation announced that it would shift to the use of synthetic feathered shuttlecocks for environmental reasons, the SSI's sport biomechanics team "conducted an intensive comparative study of the flight and projection characteristics of the new shuttlecocks", enabling Singaporean badminton players to modify their movements and adapt to the new conditions.

Biomechanists also supported para-swimmer and Olympic gold medallist Yip Pin Xiu, by working with her coach to optimise her strokes, monitoring her training.

At the Tokyo Olympics, they used heat retention to regulate her body temperature while waiting for events, helping to maximise her performance.

Direct funding to athletes

Aside from the investment in general terms, Tong said "a significant portion of funding also goes to supporting our athletes directly".

The spexScholarship, provides a monthly stipend to the "most promising athletes" to help them take care of their daily expenses.

There is funding to help athletes offset their coaching costs, participate in local and overseas training and competitions, purchase equipment, and obtain additional sport medicine and sport science support if required.

Athletes who excel at the "highest levels" can expect to see support worth several thousand dollars a month.

Over 168 individuals, both para-athletes and able-bodied athletes, have received the scholarship since 2013.

There are currently 76 holders, including world champions and household names like shuttler Loh and swimmer Yip Pin Xiu.

Sports Excellence framework

Tong also explained how the Sports Excellence framework also provides support to athletes beyond "dollars and cents."

There is an education scheme that helps student athletes progress in their academics by supporting scholarships, admissions and scheduling classes around their training sessions.

This is made possible by partnering SportsSG with 16 institutions of higher learning like NUS, SMU, ITEs and polytechnics.

National shooter Martina Veloso, gold medallist at the Commonwealth Games is a beneficiary. Her school, Nanyang Polytechnic, helped by managing her examination schedules and granting extensions for submissions of assignments.

Besides school, the framework also has a Business Network to help athletes secure jobs while balancing their sporting commitments.

The network includes over 60 companies and organisations over 25 industries.

National para-swimmer Sophie Soon is a beneficiary, having a flexible work schedule during her internship with Toyota while also preparing for the Tokyo Olympic Games. Soon was hired as a full-time staff after her graduation.

Grants to compensate loss of income

The framework also includes monetary grants that have benefited 4,000 athletes over the past five years.

There is a grant for the loss of wages, which compensates any lost wages sustained from missing work to prepare for and compete at the Major Games.

There is also a training assistance grant to defray training costs.

Other forms of non-monetary support

Other forms of support include efforts to promote mental well-being and stress management.

"Since 2020, Sport Singapore has also engaged athletes to identify possible symptoms of psychological and mental distress, including eating and sleeping disorders," Tong said, adding that competitive sports can exert "immense stress and pressure" on any athlete.

Officers at the institutes also go above and beyond the call of duty to help athletes by providing counselling and lending a listening ear.

Thank you for being a friend

Tong cited the example of former wrestler Muhammad Hidayat Osman, who works as a strength and conditioning specialist at NYSI, but also volunteers his time as a sparring partner and helping to train young wrestlers.

The government also works with partners to obtain support from society.

The One Team Singapore Fund, launched in 2017, is a matching grant framework that boosts donations from corporations and members of the public.

To date it has received donations of over S$15 million from the public, matched by the government.

Donations go towards efforts like enhancing their training environment and increasing their competition opportunities.

Tong said, "They benefit all athletes regardless of whether they win. This provides athletes with certainty that they will be given support to achieve their best, regardless of their outcomes, and not just have to rely on prize money."

Unifying factor

Tong saluted the achievements of Singapore athletes in recent months, at competitions like the Badminton World Federation championships and the AFF Suzuki Cup.

"We cheered them and celebrated our athletes' achievements as a community of enthusiastic spectators, sports fans, passionate fans and proud Singaporeans. There are very few things that can motivate, galvanise and inspire in the way sports can," Tong said.

He pointed out that athletes can inspire us in defeat as well as victory, as seen in the national football team's lung-busting efforts in their Suzuki Cup campaign.

Tong said the government is committed to sports in Singapore, pledging to keep sports facilities, programmes and competitions accessible, and supporting national athletes with the resources they need to excel.

Top image from CNA.

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