Excerpts Of The Speech By Mr Lawrence Wong, Acting Minister At The 2013 Committee Of Suppy Debate On The Ministry Of Culture, Community & Youth

15 Mar 2013

"Live Better Through Sports"

  1. Madam Chair, I thank the members for their speeches and questions on the sports and youth issues. These are important facets of our Singapore culture and community which I talked about earlier.
  1. In particular, few things rally the emotions and fire up the Singapore spirit like the sports. Late last year, when the Lions played in the Suzuki Cup finals, cheers rang out across our island, from downtown pubs to heartland coffee shops.
  1. Sports is a language that everyone can understand. I agree with Mr Hawazi Daipi that sports is important for healthy living, personal development and social bonding. Sports is also a leisure activity that all can enjoy. It keeps us physically fit, builds character, and bonds family and friends. At its best, sports can bring people together, no matter what our race, background, or economic status.
  1. This is why we want to give every Singaporean the opportunity to experience sports and live better through sports, whether as a professional sportsperson, amateur player, spectator or volunteer.
  1. This is why we are increasing our investments in both software and hardware to implement initiatives under the sports Vision 2030 masterplan. And as mentioned by Er Dr Lee Bee Wah, we must work hard to translate our plan, from paper to reality, to promote sports for all and sports excellence.

Increased Funding for Sports

  1. Over the next 5 years, state funding in sports programming will increase by more than $250 million; we will also double our infrastructure investments. The additional investment will largely be committed to operating a wider network of upgraded sports facilities, enhanced programming and various engagement platforms to build a strong sports culture.
  1. However, we recognise that the government and the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) cannot do this alone. It really requires the combined efforts and synergies from many partners. One of the most important partners is our National Sports Associations (NSAs), as they play a critical role in promoting sports culture and sports excellence.
  1. Er Dr Lee Bee Wah also asked about funding for the NSAs. SSC currently provides direct funding to the NSAs through the Annual NSA Grant Exercise framework. SSC also provides indirect assistance through sports science and medicine support, shared services and usage of sports facilities. However, I know that resources continue to be a concern for the NSAs and I have asked SSC to look at the funding framework, and to work with the NSAs to see how we can better manage and optimise our resources. We will look at this holistically - funding and manpower requirements in the broader context of the sports sector, and see how we can better support the NSAs.

Promoting a Sporting Lifestyle

  1. Several members including Dr Lam Pin Min have highlighted the constraints that Singaporeans face when it comes to sports. Because of our many commitments at work and with our families, it is easy to place sports lower down on our list of priorities.
  1. Even when Singaporeans do take part in a sport, we see more of them doing so individually, for example, jogging, swimming or going to the gym, rather than friends or family. What can we do to encourage a sporting lifestyle, not just for individuals, but also our communities?
  1. We have two broad strategies. The first strategy is to enhance our public sports facilities. This is crucial to meeting the sporting and fitness needs of Singaporeans.
  1. The second strategy is to complement facilities with attractive programmes to meet the diverse interests and needs of Singaporeans. We must sustain interest in sports through positive and engaging experiences. We also want to encourage a culture of sports spectatorship, so that families and friends can meet, cheer for their favourite players and bond over a good game of sports.
  1. One key catalyst for all this is the development of the Singapore Sports Hub. As Mr Zainudin Nordin said earlier, the Sports Hub will be a tremendous boost to the local sporting scene.
  1. The Sports Hub will serve as the training centre for many of our national athletes and will attract top sporting events to our shores, giving Singaporeans a greater choice of quality sporting programmes and exciting activities.
  1. More importantly, we want the Sports Hub and the new Stadium to be national icons that Singaporeans will be proud of. All of us have fond memories of the former National Stadium. So we look forward to bringing back the Kallang Roar in full force when the Lions play its first match at the new Stadium next year. And I encourage Singapore to go to the Sports Hub, not just to watch sporting events, but also to make full use of the sport facilities, and enjoy the diverse range of shopping, F&B, and entertainment options that the Sports Hub will offer.

Bringing Sports Facilities to Our Doorsteps

  1. While the Sports Hub will be a major sports facility catering to all Singaporeans, we recognise that many also take part in sports around their neighbourhood, and there's a need for adequate facilities, a point that Dr Lam Pin Min mentioned.
  1. So we will put in place a new Sports Facilities Masterplan (SFMP) to build new sport facilities in towns and neighbourhoods, and to rejuvenate and redevelop existing ones. This is a long-term plan and we will embark on it in phases over the next 20 years.
  1. By 2030, we plan to have up to five Regional Sports Centres (RSCs) across the island. These RSCs will be bigger and better than our existing sports and recreation centres. They will serve as main focal points for sport competitions, leagues and events. They will be designed with a wider array of facilities that will serve to bring the community together, including higher seating capacity in the stadiums, and LED screen to cater for better spectator experience.
  1. Besides sports facilities, they will also incorporate other complementary lifestyle and recreational amenities. Where possible, they will be co-located with other community facilities and conveniently located near transport nodes and town hubs to offer seamless access and a whole new experience, not just for the individual, but for the family.
  1. At the neighbourhood level, we will do several things to improve access to sports facilities for Singaporeans.
  • First, we will have Town Sports & Recreation Centres (TSRC) in the HDB towns. These will largely be re-developed from our existing sports and recreation centres. The new TSRCs will have a broader range of sport and recreational amenities, well-integrated with park connectors and other leisure offerings. This will cater to a wider audience, including multi-generational families with diverse needs, and bring sports, games and leisure activities conveniently to one place.
  • At the community level, we will design and build sporting spaces at the constituency level. This includes tapping on programmes such as the existing Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP) and the Remaking Our Heartland (ROH) programme to upgrade the sports and recreation facilities in the precinct, and work with the community and interest groups to bring in programmes and activities for the residents.
  • Third, we will continue to work with the Ministry of Education to open up more school sport facilities for the public. For example, the new Crest Secondary School will have a football field with floodlights that can be used by the public at night, in addition to an indoor sports hall, outdoor basketball court and sheltered outdoor street soccer court. This will provide residents with a wider range of facilities, for longer hours.
  • Finally, we will redesign standalone facilities into innovative play areas for residents to enjoy. For example, some of our old swimming complexes are under-utilised; they can be re-designed into play fields with a gym, outdoor courts, as well as interactive water features, to serve residents of all ages.
  1. Collectively, the regional and town sports centres, and the community-based spaces will bring quality sport facilities within easy reach of residents in every neighbourhood and ensure adequate sports facilities to cater to Singaporeans' needs, and they will be accessible and affordable to members of the public.
  1. As I mentioned earlier, this is a long-term masterplan. I have only outlined the broad concept, and there's still much work to be done. In implementing this masterplan, the SSC will work closely with the community, and incorporate suggestions and ideas from residents into the design of the various facilities. So we see this masterplan very much as a co-created outcome, involving close consultations with our partners and stakeholders.
  1. As I mentioned earlier, this is a long-term masterplan. I have only outlined the broad concept, and there's still much work to be done. In implementing this masterplan, the SSC will work closely with the community, and we will incorporate suggestions and ideas from residents into the design of the various facilities. So we see this masterplan very much as a co-created outcome, involving close consultations with our partners and stakeholders.
  1. Over time, we will enhance the sport and recreational spaces in the neighbourhood, and build a quality living environment where all Singaporeans can live better through sports.

Delivering Quality Sporting Programmes

  1. But our efforts cannot just only focus on the physical infrastructure. Besides that, we must also do more to have quality sports programmes. We do not want our sport facilities to be merely functional areas where people come to participate in a sport, and then leave.
  1. Instead, we want our centres to be vibrant community nodes, where people can pick up a new skill, participate in competitions and games, and connect with one another through sports.
  1. To achieve this, we will need to beef up the sports programming offered in the centres, and link up with existing programme providers and organisations, such as our schools and Community Sports Clubs.
  1. Today, there of them are already offering sporting programmes, but our sense is that their efforts tend to be somewhat stand-alone and not well-integrated. There are gaps, for example, we have high participation rates in sports among school children, but once they graduate and leave school, their sports participation drops.
  1. We aim to address these gaps through the concept of what we call a "Super Sports Club". It is something we are looking to develop, to offer Singaporeans more opportunities to sustain their interest and participation in sports.
  1. How will this work? The idea is to have a platform where we can pool together existing providers and existing interest groups and sports club. For example, if there are people interested in playing basketball, the Super Sport Club will bring them together, offer basketball clinics and lessons conducted by professional instructors for different levels of play, and organise competitions and leagues so that everyone can find teams to play with, and events to hone their sporting skills. SSC will develop this Super Sports Club concept, but it cannot be done by SSC alone, and as I said, SSC will have to work in partnership with the different providers, sports groups as well as schools. Schools will be a very important partner, because as Er Lee Bee Wah said, we do know of children who are very keen to play sports in a school, but perhaps they did not get into the CCA of their choice, and that is something we hope to address. Because by linking up the schools, the Super Sports Club can provide additional avenues for their students to play games like basketball, or other sports that they are interested in, and hopefully if we do this well, there will be many others like Er Lee Bee Wah who will then take up multiple sports, represent their university in multiple sports, and go on to lead our national sports associations.
  1. Over the past year, SSC has been working on the possible operating models and details of programmes to be implemented by the Super Sports Club. This year, we are ready to pilot the Super Sports Club in the Western region. Discussions with partners such as schools in the region, programme providers and sports clubs such as Gombak United, have been positive, and we will bring them on board when we are ready. We will also consider Mr David Ong's suggestion to provide a wider spectrum of sports activities, including recreational sports that may not have mass appeal.
  1. With this pilot, we will gain experience, and we will use that experience to fine-tune and strengthen the concept of the Super Sports Club, before progressively expanding the programmes to other regions. So for the pilot itself, existing facilities will be used for the programmes within the Western region; and once we have the new Regional Sports Centres which are developed, then these will serve as the anchor for the Super Sports Clubs eventually.
  1. By enhancing and integrating our sporting hardware and software, we hope all Singaporeans will enjoy fulfilling experiences at lifestyle venues where families, friends and communities can come together and participate in sports together.

Developing Sports Excellence

  1. While we focus on making sports accessible for everyone in the community, we will also support the aspirations of those who have the talent to excel in their chosen sports.
  1. Many members, including Er Dr Lee Bee Wah, Mr Zainudin Nordin, Ms Jessica Tan, Mr Teo Ser Luck raised this issue of sports excellence. I would like to assure members that we will be investing more in our sporting talents to help them realise their full potential.
  1. We already have the Singapore Sports School (SSP) to nurture our young sports talent. The school has produced nearly 250 national athletes who have competed on the international stage. They include 4 Olympians - athlete Calvin Kang who competed in the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and Tao Li, Mylene Ong and Dipna Lim-Prasad who represented us in swimming and athletics at the London 2012 Olympics. Besides them, the honour list of SSP graduates includes 7 world champions, 30 Asian Games athletes and 89 SEA Games athletes. So I think they're doing very well, and we will continue to support them.
  1. We will continue to invest in the SSP to lay strong foundations for our young athletes to pursue their sporting careers. We will also develop more academic pathways so that students can combine learning with their sports development. Many student-athletes have already benefited from SSP's tie-up with Republic Polytechnic. Next year, SSP will begin its International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP).
  1. To further support our young athletes, we have the Singapore Sports Institute (SSI). The SSI provides a high performance ecosystem of sports medicine, sports science application, planning and management for our athletes.
  1. This year, we will set up a new national High Performance System (HPS), which will provide our national athletes with more comprehensive support. I agree with the comments of Mr Leo Ser Luck, about the broad principles in which the HPS will work. Firstly, we will have to do it in close engagement with the NSAs, because they are an important partner. Secondly, we have to think hard about setting appropriate targets, not just about medals, but about making our athletes sporting heroes so that they can inspire other people as well. And thirdly, providing assistance for their post-sporting career so that our athletes will get the assistance for their education, career and personal development, which will equip them with the life skills to transit to a second career after their playing days.
  1. A key feature of the HPS is the Sports Excellence (SpEx) Scholarship, which will provide an enhanced level of support, including living allowances for high potential athletes at various levels of competitions. We have set aside $40 million for the SpEx Scholarship over five years and with this, we expect to be able to support about 50 - 60 top athletes in various sports.
  1. The way we have designed this is that it will be an inclusive system, so all athletes - able-bodied or disabled - will be eligible for nomination by their NSAs. It doesn't matter if it's a non-Olympian sportall can be nominated, but selection will have to be based on merit and potential. And we only have limited number of scholarships to give out, but all can nominate and we will have a panel to select the best.
  1. Having said that, those who are not under the SpEx Scholarship will still get support through the HPS. So the scholarship is just one part of it, there's a broader range of support that the HPS will offer, and that includes coaching, sports medicine and sports science and training allowance. And as Er Dr Lee suggested, we will also look at collaborations with overseas teams and sports organisations to enable our athletes to gain valuable experiences through competitions and exchanges. So overall, we expect the HPS to benefit more than 1,000 national athletes annually.
  1. The HPS will be of tremendous help to Team Singapore athletes like canoeist Geraldine Lee. To prepare for the 2011 SEA Games, Geraldine took no-pay leave from work for half a year to train fulltime. Her efforts paid off when she won a Gold medal and 3 Silver medals at the SEA Games, and qualified for the Olympic Games in 2012.
  1. Geraldine sacrificed much in forgoing a regular income to commit to her training. With the enhanced support available through the HPS, athletes like her can train full time with less financial worries, and we can also help extend the lifespan of their sporting careers. I believe this will help our athletes fly the Singapore flag and realise their full potential in the international sporting arena.
  1. Even as we do more for our Team Singapore athletes, we also want to make sure that our former athletes are recognised and supported by the wider community, something that Mr Teo Ser Luck mentioned. We have set up a Singapore Sports Hall of Fame to honour and commemorate Singapore's top athletes. They enjoy various benefits including free entry to SSC's gymnasiums and swimming complexes, and regular invitations to sports events. We also have a Sports Alumni network to keep our former athletes connected to the sports fraternity and to serve as role models for the community. We will continue to review and enhance the recognition we provide to our former athletes.
  1. At the same time, we would like our athletes, both current and former, to give back to the community. SSC will be working with the NSAs to create more opportunities for our athletes to do more outreach and engagement with the community. For example, they can volunteer in good causes they feel strongly about, or conduct clinics in schools to inspire young Singaporeans. Through these efforts, we hope more Singaporeans will identify with our sporting heroes and rally behind them as a nation when they represent Singapore at international competitions.

Sports Giving

  1. More generally, sports offer many opportunities for us to develop our spirit of volunteerism and philanthropy, a point that Mr David Ong mentioned. This is why SSC launched the SportCares Movement last year, to use sports as a force for social good.
  1. For example, in December last year, SportCares organised a 3-day basketball workshop at Tanah Merah Prison School. 10 players from the Singapore Slingers and two Strength and Conditioning Coaches from the SSI took part - they provided basketball training for the students, and in the process, also instilled character and values. The feedback about the session was very positive, not just from the students, but also the volunteers. One of our national players said: "When I chose basketball as a professional career, it never occurred to me that we could have this kind of impact on people's lives. I am ready to do this again."
  1. This initiative shows what we hope to achieve through SportCares. Building on this experience, we will be organising more workshops later in the year, and involving more schools and community partners to reach out to the community, to reach out to the disadvantaged, through sports.
  1. Mr David Ong also asked about the amounts raised through SportsCares. So far, we have raised almost $300,000 from the corporate and community sectors for 2,600 beneficiaries. SSC is matching all donations dollar-to-dollar, up to the first $1 million raised.
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