SINGAPORE: The achievements of Singapore's Paralympians at Rio 2016 were recognised in Parliament on Monday (Nov 7), as the House moved a motion to congratulate them.
Singapore’s para-athletes put up their best Games showing at the Paralympics in Rio, with swimmer Yip Pin Xiu winning two gold medals in the S2 50m and 100m backstroke, and teammate Theresa Goh taking bronze in the SB4 100m breaststroke.
Nine of the 13-strong team of Paralympians who went to Rio attended the Parliament sitting on Monday.
Speaking in Parliament, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said their “incredible feats” in Rio have “uplifted the nation”.
“These 13 extraordinary athletes have shown us that with hard work and sacrifice, we can realise our dreams. Their achievements also exemplify how a nation as small as ours can punch above its weight,” she said
The minister also paid tribute to the athletes’ caregivers, coaches and families, as well as officials from the Singapore Disability Sports Council, Singapore National Paralympic Council and Singapore Sports Institute for their “tireless contributions”.
Ms Fu said it was heartening to see the outpouring of pride and appreciation from Singaporeans, who turned up at the airport to welcome the Paralympians on their return from Rio and lined the streets during their celebratory parade.
“Our Paralympians have certainly become our nation’s sporting heroes, and I believe they will continue to inspire many more Singaporeans in time to come,” she said.
MORE INCLUSIVENESS NEEDED
Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin paid tribute to the Paralympians’ “never-say-die attitude”.
“For our para-athletes and their families, it is not just in the competitions that they have to strive hard. It is also in the race of life that they cross seemingly insurmountable hurdles, dealing with the simplest of tasks that so many of us just take for granted,” he said.
Jalan Besar MP Denise Phua thanked the Paralympians “for showing us the power of the human spirit”.
“You face greater challenges than typical athletes and deserve recognition similar to or even beyond them. From you, we learnt the lessons of mental toughness, true grit, optimism and self-control,” she said.
Mr Tan, who is also president of the Singapore National Olympic Committee, said that while Singapore has made progress towards becoming a more inclusive society, it is “not there yet”.
“Just simple actions, like giving way while on the MRT, providing assistance to board the bus, not parking in accessible lots meant for persons with disabilities," he said. "Most importantly, it is in our hearts and minds that we need to just embrace our fellow Singaporeans of any ability."
The hour-long session concluded with a standing ovation for the Paralympians, which Ms Yip said gave her goosebumps.
“We’re very grateful for the opportunity to be here. It’s our first time here, we have mixed emotions, excited, didn’t know what to expect, but it was really nice and heartwarming,” the swimmer said.
“There were so many faces (in Parliament) that we knew but weren’t really sure if they knew us, but now we think they do. It was really nice having people recognise our achievements.”
Ms Goh, who has been competing for 17 years, said she appreciated how much disability sports has grown in the public consciousness.
“Having been in sports for so many years, it’s very nice to see the change from the very beginning till now,” she said.
“I don’t think I could have expected such a reception when I first started because not many people were aware of Paralympic sports. So today has been really nice to be recognised for what we have been doing. It’s something I will treasure.”
As for the standing ovation, Ms Goh described it as “surreal”.
“It’s not every day that you get that kind of ovation. Hopefully that’s a sign of things to come that there’ll be more support from the government, or a way to get to a really more inclusive society,” she said.
Former chairman of the Singapore National Paralympic Council, Dr Teo-Koh Sock Miang, said she was pleased the Paralympians were given their day in Parliament.
“It’s such an honour for them to be recognised in Parliament, and they definitely deserved it,” she said.
“It also recognises that all individuals with special needs should be encouraged to take up sport, and that anything is possible. I hope this message goes out to all parents with children with special needs as well as anyone else that has a role, whether they are special education teachers or volunteer coaches.”
Ms Gemma Rose Foo, who competed in equestrian events in Rio de Janeiro while still recovering from an injury to her spleen, said she was proud to have made it to her second Paralympic Games following her 2012 debut in London.
For her, attending a Parliament sitting was not something she had expected in her athletic career, and the recognition by Singapore’s lawmakers made it all the more special.
“Being here gave me a lot of feelings, but one that stands out is surreal. I was really excited to be able to come to Parliament, and when I first walked in, I thought ‘Wow, I can’t believe I’m here’,” Ms Foo said.
“I feel a lot more empowered and encouraged to do well in my sport, just have to make sure the recovery goes smoothly and I’ll be back training harder.”
CALL FOR EQUAL PRIZE MONEY
In her speech lauding the para-athletes, Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong paid tribute to the pioneers of disability sport who blazed the trail nearly three decades ago, and said more can be done than just congratulating the Paralympians.
Ms Chia, who is also president of SPD (formerly known as the Society for the Physically Disabled), reiterated the call for equal prize money for Paralympic medal winners.
Commenting on Ms Chia’s remarks, Dr Teo-Koh said: “The disabled community is waiting for the day when everyone will be treated equal, regardless of condition, regardless of special disability needs.”
Ms Foo said while the matter has received plenty of attention, she does not “think it is a big issue”.
“We’re more focused on competing and doing the country proud,” she said. “But the prize money would help us in our sport and make us go a longer way, and no matter what amount we receive, we appreciate all the support we get.
While not sure if para-athletes will ever get equal prize money as able-bodied athletes, Ms Goh remains hopeful.
“I didn’t really expect to be able to come to Parliament to receive such an ovation, and it happened,” she said.
“So I guess hopes are there that there will be a more equal standing of para-athletes versus able-bodied athletes, because it’s not really a competition between us, we all want the same thing.
“It’s not about the money, generally, it’s just the way the money is used as a form of value, which kind of reflects how they value us.”