Anthony Ho (far left) and the Petanque Asian Beach Games Team, Nov 2014.
TSL talks to the President of Sports Boules Singapore, Anthony Ho on the rejuvenation of the sport of Petanque and the journey to date.
You have achieved a lot for Sports Boules (better known as Petanque) and this is your second tenure as president –tell us more about yourself.
I am a competitive freak and badminton is my first love. A tumor in my leg ended all my hopes of representing Singapore in badminton. I wanted to be a PE Teacher but my Public Service Comission Scholarship dictated that I specialise in English Language and Literature.
I discovered Petanque in 2000. I was lecturing in a junior college and my friend (An ex-colleague) told me about this sport he discovered while studying in England. We decided to see if we could get our hands on some boules and learn the game. It was just the idea of learning a non-mainstream sport that piqued my curiosity. We spent a few weeks looking around our tiny island before I discovered a small group of seniors playing the sport at Joo Seng Community Centre. I joined them in a game and asked where we can meet the people "in charge" of this sport. They referred us to Toa Payoh and that's how my love affair started.
I enjoy Petanque because of what the sport can offer in helping in thedevelopment of the whole being - physically, mentally and spiritually. Petanque as a sport is an easy sport that can be played by all shapes and sizes. Petanque is also suitable for all ages. You need just 15 minutes to learn how to play it socially. It is alsolow cost and bears minimal risk in terms of injuries. There’s constant interaction when playing the game hence making it an ideal sport for family, social and corporate bonding.
I represented Singapore in my first year of Petanque at the Asian Championship’s. Months later, I was selected to be part of the team that competed at the World Championships in Grenoble, France. I was finally living my dream of representing Singapore. But our performance was a nightmare. I remember our English coach saying that we didn't need a coach, we needed a psychologist! We needed new blood.
In 2001, I was invited to sit in the Executive Committee and was voted in as the Vice-President. Two years later, I became the president at the age of 29. I was a young man running a sport that was predominantly played byseniors. I made a conscious decision to change the composition of the Mens team first. Vicki (Treasurer of Sports Boules Singapore) added young blood from her primary school’s boys track and field team. They were our pioneer batch of junior players (including current representative players, Cheng Zhiming and Goh Wee Teck).
Cheng Zhiming with Anthony
With the need to engage younger players. I started Petanque as a CCA in my junior college. In 2005, we won our first ever SEA Games medal. In 2007, our Junior team (which included Zhiming and Wee Teck) were ranked 9th in the world at the Junior World Championships. In 2011, Zhiming won the Bronze medal at the Junior World Championships and became the youngest ever Asian Champion in Shooting at the age of 16. We were on a high and the future looked promising. But we were the only sport to return empty handed from the SEA Games in Laos. In 2011, I gave up my post and minimised my involvement with the sport to focus on setting up my own enrichment centre.
At the 2013 Annual General Meeting, the discussion was mainly focused on whether we should shut down the NSA. We were struggling financially and hosting the SEA Games was really not on our minds. I reluctantly accepted my reappointment as President.
In your second term, things have been looking up for Petanque - how did you go about assessing what new directions to take for the sport?
We began with aninformal SWOT analysis. We found thatwe needed to address a couple of things, that personnel shouldn't wear more than one hat and that we needed a more structured training programme for our athletes. We also needed to inject more youth into our setup.
What programmes in particular have you implemented to continue the growth of Petanque as a sport and an organisation?
I'm pretty pleased with the outcome of our Let's Play! series. Each team is supposed to comprise a player who has never played Petanque. The players have managed to introduce and engage their friends to the sport.
Also, I've started a quarterly athlete dialogue session to find out the concerns and gather feedback from the athletes and though it’s still too few sessions for any observations, the athletes have asked for more support in terms of attire and training equipment, financial subsidy and more structured training. In return, we've asked for more commitment and application of the right principles. My observation is that athletes who come in looking for CCA points or the opportunity to travel, hardly develop well. Athletes who consciously focus on the principles of Petanque and sports in general, outperform the rest. In my humble opinion, there is a trend of over emphasising the packaging rather than the substance of sports in general.
Arguably, the sport of Petanque is one traditionally associated with the more mature audience. How are you addressing this perception?
Well, perception is the keyword here. We're using social media like Facebook to constantly plant a more youthful image in people's mind.
Facebook is used to update everyone about our events and results. Sometimes, teams from the region participate in our events after seeing it on Facebook. The athletes also post regularly on Instagram for their followers.
At the recent Asian Beach Games (Nov 2014), Petanque players, Cheng Zhi Ming, won a GOLD in Men's Shooting and Nur Izzati won a BRONZE in Women's Shooting. What does this mean for the sport moving forward?
It means a lot to us. It is always easy to make excuses when results don't go our way.. Zhiming’s and Izzati's results helped reinforce our belief in long term planning. It is never satisfying to win via quick fixes. We know that it takes about 8 years to churn out a very competitive player. We need to improve our training programme for all to shorten the duration needed.
Anthony with Petanque players, Cheng Zhi Ming, (GOLD in Men's Shooting) Nur Izzati (BRONZE in Women's Shooting) and Sport Singapore Staff at the Asian Beach Games.
In October 2014, you secured the well-known Thailand sports equipment company, Football Thai Factory Sporting Goods Co, Ltd. (FBT) as a sponsor to Sports Boules Singapore and facilitated a dialogue that lead to a SEA Games sponsorship deal for Sport Singapore– how did this come about?
First of all I need to clarify that FBT's sponsorhsip is in kind. While it helps in terms of training wear and equipment, we still are far behind in terms of funding for the sustainability of our sport. We've always maintained a cordial relationship with the owners of FBT and on a recent visit to them at their HQ, we talked about the possibility of their support for our SEA Games as a whole. They were keen to help us and that's how it all started.
Anthony at the Sport Singapore - FBT Sponsorship Signing
Where do you see Petanque as a sport and as an organisation in the next 5-10 years?
Well, I see our standard of Petanque to be very competitive at the international level and I see us having a decent base of players to work with. As an organisation, I see us as still working hard to make our NSA financially sustainable.
POST NOTE: Since the interview, Petanque has recently finished concluded the Singapore-Myanmar Friendship Championship in Myanmar where a total of 1 Gold, 3 Silver & 7 Bronze medals were won - congratulations!