SINGAPORE: Paralympic medallists Yip Pin Xiu and Theresa Goh elected to stay above the debate over equal reward money for able-bodied and disabled athletes, when they met the media on Wednesday (Sep 21) upon returning from the Rio Games.
The debate was reignited following Yip's double gold medal feat, with some members of the public calling for a million-dollar reward for her, similar to the S$1 million that Joseph Schooling will receive for his butterfly win - Singapore’s first Olympic gold medal.
But Yip and Goh stayed above the fray, insisting it was never in their minds to swim for monetary reward, and that matters of this nature should be dealt with by the relevant authorities.
“In an ideal world, everybody will treat us equally… that’s not the situation right now but it’s not something we’re complaining about because it’s not what’s important to us right now,” said Goh, who broke through for her first Paralympic medal after more than a decade representing Singapore at the highest level.
“(Prize money) is not something we swim for,” she added. “If it was, I would have quit a long time ago.
“Swimming is part of me, part of my identity because I’ve been doing it for so long. The prize money is a bonus. It’s the joy in the achievement that keeps me going.”
PROGRESS FOR DISABILITY SPORTS
For Yip, it mattered more that disability sports has gained greater visibility and acceptance, especially following from the successful staging of the ASEAN Para Games here last year, and now with the medal wins in Rio.
“There’s been progress in the way Singaporeans see para sports – the awareness and everything – and we’re thankful for what’s been happening,” she said.
“Of course, as para athletes we would like to see equality, but it doesn’t have to be that we get a million (dollars) but to see progress.
“Regardless of the outcome, I’m thankful for the support and the people who cheer us on, wanting us to get equality. But as an athlete, I really just want to focus on my achievements in the pool, and that’s my role as an athlete.”
The debate had raged in 2008 when Yip won Singapore’s first Paralympic gold medal and Laurentia Tan brought home equestrian bronze medals from Beijing.
It reignited four years later when Tan scored silver and bronze medals in London.
The dissatisfaction this time round was further stoked by news that neighbours Malaysia will give equal rewards to its able-bodied and disabled athletes, making instant millionaires of its three Paralympic gold medallists, who will also get a lifetime pension of RM5,000 (S$1,645) a month.
MORE SPONSORS NEEDED: NATIONAL PARALYMPIC CHAIRMAN
But Dr Teo-Koh Sock Miang, who is chairman of the Singapore National Paralympic Council (SNPC), pointed out that sponsors have a big part to play where reward amounts are concerned.
“Rewards systems are in place because they are supported by sponsors, so I have to respect the sponsors’ views and ability to support the para athletes,” said Dr Teo-Koh, who is also President of the Singapore Disability Sports Council.
“We all would love for everything to be similar. We’ve worked hard with our sponsors; we are going to continue having this conversation with the sponsors.”
The reward scheme for the 2016 Paralympics has yet to be announced, but the SNPC’s Athletes Achievement Award Programme, which is partly funded by the Tote Board and Singapore Pools, has given out S$200,000 for a gold medal, S$100,000 for a silver and S$50,000 for a bronze for the past two Paralympics.
And Dr Teo-Koh laid down the challenge for other sponsors to come on board.
“If everybody out there keeps saying we should be equal, then step up to the plate,” she urged. “Corporations need to step up to the plate, and not say everything is (up to the) Government.
“If you truly feel inspired by what our para athletes have been doing, step up - not just for the award system; step up to support para games because at all steps of development, support is needed.
“So my challenge to everyone out there who says there’s got to be equality, my take to them is: 'What is your role in all of this? Shouldn’t you yourself step forward and offer your support?'"
Dr Teo-Koh expressed gratitude for the support through the years from the Tote Board and Singapore Pools, adding: “We will continue to work very hard to see how far we can push this reward system. There’s some talk that there are some sponsors who might be keen to come on board, we’ve not met them yet as we’ve just returned from Rio but we will hope to meet them in the coming days.”
GETTING MORE SPECIAL NEEDS CHILDREN INVOLVED
With greater visibility for para sports following the 2016 Paralympics, Dr Teo-Koh also took the opportunity to urge parents of children with special needs to get involved with sports.
“People with disabilities need to see themselves that it is possible to play sports,” she said.
“Help your kid get involved, just enjoy the sport and you will find that sport has fantastic rehabilitation value. And along the way, you’ll never know how far you can go.
“To all parents with special needs children, don’t be afraid, because sports is a special platform. It helps the child develop holistically, in the social, cognitive and physical domains. So we want to encourage that broad-based participation with all parents.”