Parallel lines in sport but a world of difference in thought?
The silent disparity between para-sport and able bodied sports, should there be one?
That 0.1 of a second faster, an inch further or even an ounce stronger. The difference between success and defeat boils down to hours of training behind closed doors. Sweat, blood and tears are shed as an athlete pushes himself against the odds to be better than the man he was yesterday.
To take the path of a professional athlete may seem simple to many people as the glory and success of their achievements are celebrated on the world stage. Behind the scenes though, only few would truly understand the sacrifices behind the triumphs on the world stage – the emotional, physical and psychological sacrifices of the athletes.
In Singapore, choosing the sporting path has always been the road less travelled upon as Singaporeans focus on more “secured” careers. Many local athletes face an uphill task in gaining this “security” while pursuing greatness within their sport. In a nutshell, being a full time athlete is a job with little support and no fixed pay or bonuses!
With that in mind, the Singapore National Olympic Council in the 1990s devised an incentive scheme to reward medal-winning athletes. The Multi-Million Dollar Award Programme (MAP) provides a cash payout to athletes who win medals at the Olympic, Asian, Commonwealth and South East Asian (SEA) Games. To dangle such a huge carrot would mean a supposed “challenge” for fellow athletes to grab it.
A short interview with Prema Govindan, the record holder of the 200m for 29 years, shared with us her experience as an athlete. She recalled that it would take her at least 2 hours to get to Kallang for her training. “I had no time for social life as my daily routine was to school, home, track and then home again to finish my homework and study. I rarely got the chance to go for movies, or socialise with my friends because I had little time for that. I also missed several family vacations as I had to train and compete.”
Former 200m record holder Prema Govindan(left) with current 200m record holder Shanti Peirera(right)
Her sacrifices paid off as she set several records and won the first athletic scholarship to study overseas. Unfortunately, her sporting career was cut short as she was plagued by injury and wanted to start a stable career. Sharing her thoughts on the local sporting scene, she feels that athletes need avenues for further education and careers post their athletic careers. Many leave because there’s little chance of a secured future once their athletic career is over. Also, as we move forward towards being a world class sporting nation, all athletes should be treated the same and given equal opportunities!
Going back to the term of “equal” opportunities is something as a nation we should not take for granted. The very existence of the Multi-Million Dollar Award Programme(MAP) scheme is testament to how as a nation we still have some way to go to close the gap. As shared in the earlier interview, sacrifices is a normality for athletes striving for glory but the insecurity of the what the future beholds is still a gamble many athletes fear, especially living in the one of the world’s most expensive city!
Team Singapore Floorball Team appreciating support form fellow Team Singapore athlete Yip Pin Xiu during the 2015 SEA Games semi-final
Our para athletes face a bigger gamble as their “eligibility” to the prize money from the MAP scheme is only 20% of what is stated! The fundamental function of the reward system that was designed to encourage athletes to take this gamble has a supposed glitch, so why the difference?
From Laurentia Tan to Joseph Schooling, these athletes have flown our nation’s flag high and done us proud on the international stage. Each sport is respected in their own right, with no comparisons on the level of difficulty. To achieve world status within their discipline is something that should be recognized equally.
Our para-athletes have proven time and again that they have what it takes to challenge the best in the world for the top spot on the podium. Everyone knows of our golden girls, Theresa Goh and Yip Pin Xiu, who have been making waves in the swimming scene on the international stage for a couple of years. Even at the regional level, they have swept up medals on a regular basis not because they are untouchable but because they have constantly improved their timings over the years!
Take Theresa Goh for example, who swims Women’s 100m Backstroke S5. In 2014, she swam 1:41:21 and ranked 10th in the world. In 2015, she ranked 17th with a timing of 1:45:46 but in 2016, she ranks world number 8 with an astonishing improved timing of 1:39:41! You do not need to be an athlete to know that an improvement of 6 seconds in a year equates to unexplainable sacrifices. Her best friend and training partner Yip Pin Xiu has stunned the world by jumping to the number 1 spot for the Women’s 100m freestyle with a timing of 2:11:86.
In other para-sports such as Boccia and Equestrian, Singapore has been putting up a strong fight on the world stage as well as we move towards Rio this September. The Boccia BC3 Team ranks 7th in the world and Team Singapore Boccia Team overall is ranked 19th in the world. An achievement many Team Singapore athletes would be proud of!
Laurentia Tan, our para-equestrian is also an athlete that has flown our flag high at the London Paralympics in 2012. She clinched a silver medal to join the few Singaporeans who have managed to come away from the Olympics with any form of silverware.
Local success stories in a country where sporting achievements come far and few between on the global stage should be recognized and respected with the highest order for two simple reasons. Firstly, to appreciate their achievement as an athlete no matter the sport and secondly, to inspire other athletes as a form of reassurance that achieving world class status is no more of a reality than a faraway dream.
Athletes always have the utmost respect for athletes who achieve greatness in their individual disciplines. One such athlete who feels passionately about the local sports scene is Hariss Harun, whom himself is very fortunate to be able to enjoy a professional career in the sporting scene.
Singapore Football national team vice-captain Hariss Harun doing an outreach programme with Mubarak who is the Vice-Captain for the National CP Football Team
We shared with him regarding the MAP Scheme and he was more than willing to share his thoughts on the supposed indifference in the reward scheme. “I don’t see any difference. We are all athletes. We strive for the same cause; to bring glory to our clubs and countries. We play the sport because we love the sport and have the passion for it. I have unbelievable respect for all para-athletes. I think all of them are champions in their own right.”
He went on to explain that knowing that one will be rewarded handsomely helps, but ultimately it boils down to the passion and desire that helps get rewards, be it monetary or not. The reward system is a good idea as a gauge for the athlete to know how their time will not be a deterrent to future life plans after their sporting careers are over.
Recognition for locally produced talent able to compete on a world stage is what this country screams for. The fear of dedicating your life to train for a sport where the returns are uncertain as compared to a blue collar job is a factual dilemma every aspiring athlete face.
In a country where a handful of athletes have succeeded on a global stage must be rewarded. Rewards, such as the MAP scheme, cannot fall short when rewarding those who dared to live the dream!
The MAP scheme is privately funded but locally supported. We as fellow Singaporeans can do our part to share this as an appeal to remove the invisible line that distinguishes our athletes. Our athletes carry our nation’s flag high and sing a unified anthem. They do their utmost best to do the nation and more importantly themselves proud.
Our Team Singapore Air-Pistol para-athletes posing with their medals at the 2015 ASEAN Para Games
Many of them will be striving for glory as they represent us on a global level this year at the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics. Even if they do fall short of a podium finish, they will have our fullest support at the end of the day. It is not about the money, fame or even the prestige. It is about breaking boundaries and embracing the sporting spirit. We have to acknowledge the true nature of the sport and for what it really stands for; the power to break down barriers and unifying all differences.
So let us stop playing ignorant to these silent disparities and embrace the beauty of sport. We at Dis.Is.Able would like to show our appreciation to all athletes and appeal to revise the reward scheme. Not because we believe monetary rewards equates to equality but the lack of thought into equality equates to disparity, a disparity that should not exist!
Do share this article as a form of appeal to and show of support to our local para-athletes!
Article by: A passionate volunteer
Photos by: Dis.Is.Able