Cash prize disparity not a reflection of how Government values athletes compared to para-athletes: Edwin Tong
Team Singapore athletes were honoured in Parliament for their achievements in the Olympics and Paralympics.
SINGAPORE: Efforts are being made to raise the cash rewards for para-athletes in major games, said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong on Tuesday (Oct 5) as he moved a motion to celebrate the achievements of Singapore's Olympians and Paralympians.
Speaking in Parliament, Mr Tong noted that a few MPs had asked if more could be done to reduce the disparity in cash rewards between the Major Games Award Programme (MAP) for able-bodied athletes and the Athletes’ Achievement Awards (AAA) for para-athletes.
Mr Tong explained that MAP and AAA are private award schemes managed by the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) and the Singapore National Paralympic Council (SNPC) respectively.
Since their inception, the awards have been funded entirely by private sponsors, said the minister.
The difference in cash prizes does not reflect how the Government values able-bodied athletes and para-athletes, he added.
“The award amounts offered under both schemes are raised and determined by the SNOC and SNPC respectively, along with their sponsors. Individually, the awards under each scheme are tiered based on the standard, size and field of competition for each major games,” explained Mr Tong.
“The difference in cash quantum does not reflect how Government values our para-athletes vis-à-vis our able-bodied athletes. In our eyes, they are all Team Singapore athletes, and each athlete, abled or disabled, has his or her own intrinsic value, which we value, recognise and appreciate.”
He revealed that SNPC is working on enhancing the cash awards for para-athletes in major games and already had discussions with “a few entities” to do so.
“I have also discussed these efforts with the president (of) SNPC, Prof Teo-Koh (Sock Miang), on several occasions, and will continue to support their engagement with corporate entities and private funders towards this objective. SNPC will announce the outcome of their efforts in due course,” said Mr Tong.
Besides looking at cash rewards for medal finishes, the minister also stressed the importance of “uplifting” the entire disability sporting ecosystem.
These include lowering the barriers to entry, opening more facilities and programmes, enhancing the coaching and training framework, as well as integrate disability sports with the mainstream national sports associations.
“More athletes will benefit from this, and more pathways to success and to the elite representation will open up," said Mr Tong.
"So Mr Speaker, we will continue to work hard, to foster an inclusive society through sports where people of all abilities can come together to experience, to play, to socialise and if you’re able to, to excel at the highest level in sports, and through this, to help Singapore and Singaporeans build deep social connections.”
Speaking on the motion, Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Mark Chay, who coaches Paralympic swimmer Yip Pin Xiu, thanked the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), along with a number of agencies and organisations for their "invaluable support, advice and action".
He noted that the conversation about support for athletes, as well as the disparity between para-sports and sports in general happens every four years.
"Perhaps this time, we can ride this wave and work on the existing system, which needs more assistance ... In the spirit of equality, I would like to encourage MCCY to work closely with SDSC (Singapore Disability Sports Council) and SNPC to develop the ecosystem and programmes to enable PWDs (persons with disabilities) to pursue sports participation," said Mr Chay.
"As the sports ecosystem relies heavily on donations, sponsorships, and volunteers at all levels, I encourage MCCY and SportSG to engage government-linked companies and MNCs to adopt our national sports associations by financially supporting their activities."
MP Denise Phua (PAP-Jalan Besar) also called on the Government to facilitate the process to "re-imagine, to review and to resource" not only the high-performance disability sports system but also widening the talent pool through greater sports participation.
"As Singapore strives to become more inclusive and as Singaporeans ask for more parity ... amongst differently-abled sports talents, it is time to bite the bullet to change the game. Don’t wait for the Paris Games in 2024, in a few years' time, to revive this conversation and debate again," she said.
"INDOMITABLE FIGHTING SPIRIT"
Singapore sent a total of 23 athletes across 12 sports to the Olympics, as well as 10 athletes across six sports to the Paralympics.
“We congratulate you for your exceptional performances, for your indomitable fighting spirit on the world stage. You gave everything and left nothing behind in Tokyo,” Mr Tong said of the athletes, a number of whom were present in Parliament.
“Your accomplishments brought cheer and joy to our nation, lifted our spirits in perhaps one of the most challenging periods in Singapore’s history.”
He noted that the efforts of these athletes also inspired and united Singaporeans from all walks of life as people supported them on their Olympic and Paralympic journeys.
“Just as the greats who have come before you, these men and women, our athletes, have made many personal sacrifices to carry our country’s hopes, our flag and our aspirations to the very pinnacle of sports,” said Mr Tong.
“These are also the same men and women who have and will continue to inspire generations of athletes to come after them, to rise up, stand on their shoulders, reach higher, and bring even more honour and glory to our nation.”
While Singapore did not clinch a medal at the Olympics, Yip Pin Xiu won two gold medals at the Paralympics.
She now has six Paralympics medals, of which five are gold.
This shows the “tremendous longevity and staying power” of Yip, said Mr Tong.
“Your innate quality to inspire Singaporeans, your consistency in sporting achievement at the absolutely highest level, your contributions in so many areas away from sport and your own quiet, unassuming personality, which hides a deep personal conviction to be a positive change-maker,” he added.
“Each already amazing in its own right … But taken together - you and your achievements have served to unite us as Singaporeans, and inspire us deeply.”
Mr Tong announced that a new President’s Award for Inspiring Achievement will be created, with Yip its first recipient.
He said that the award will be conferred by the President to “deserving” recipients who meet its “highest qualifying criteria”. It will be presented to Singaporeans with fitting achievements, and may not be given out every year, Mr Tong added.
“Pin Xiu has demonstrated these exceptional qualities. She has stared adversity in its face time and time again, overcame it. She is truly an inspiration to Singaporeans, and it is only appropriate that she will now become the inaugural recipient of this award,” he said.
“I am certain that she will trailblaze a path for many more to follow in her footsteps.”