With more attention on Singapore’s para-sports scene, Wong Si Jia finds out what lies ahead for this community.
An orange blur arced through the air, seconds before getting ensnared in curled fingers. A flick of the wrist, and the basketball sailed through the hoop – a point scored by a wheelchair-bound athlete.
The last two years have brought about many firsts for the local sporting scene. Between Singapore’s debut as the host nation for the 8th ASEAN Para Games in 2015 with two gold to boot, and her first-ever gold-medal victory in the Rio 2016 Olympics, more focus is being channeled to the sports community, including para-sports.
Recent efforts came to light of recognizing disability sports in Singapore, following the positive response garnered from the ASEAN Para Games. With the introduction of Centres of Expertise for Disability Sports – where disability sport programs and inclusive gyms are provided.
“Compared to 10 years ago, it’s quite a big improvement, or at least a step in the right direction,” Dis.Is.Able’s founder Mr Shiam Jerome, 26, said. “I think since the ASEAN Para Games, there has been a significant jump, which I felt was what the country was calling out for.”
Dis.Is.Able is an organization that aims to educate people on disability sports and disability as a whole.
While Mr Shiam acknowledged the development of the Singapore para-sports community, he also pointed out that more can be done to encourage growth, explaining that the aforementioned initiatives are long overdue and should have already been implemented at an earlier date – a sign that Singapore is hardly “a first-world country in para-sports or the disability scene”.
Changing the public’s perception of para-sports is the first step to creating a more inclusive society. Amidst the heated debate about unequal pay between handicapped athletes and their able-bodied counterparts, one must understand that the issue goes beyond just sum figures as well.
Mr Baey Yam Keng, Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, said in an open-discussion seminar, “For the government, of course we hope that as much (money) can go in to recognizing the efforts of these athletes, … but what the government wants to invest in is actually the journey before the win.”
According to Mr Shiam, disability sports are also generally regarded to be lacking in both difficulty and prestige. In fact, similar views can be found on the comments thread of The Straits Times’ Facebook page, with a handful of users comparing the differences between the two sporting categories.
Mr Shiam noted that the evolution of the local disability sports community is “looking to be very interesting”.
“Now that the para-sports scene is in the (lime)light, we get more educated and receptive, and people who have disabilities can now feel that they have a viable career option”, he enthused. “I think it’s all about being proud of your fellow Singaporeans, your athletes, for daring to take up the challenge.”
As said by Mr Shiam: “Singapore para-sports is certainly moving from the home pitch to the sports pitch – and it isn’t going to stop there.”