SINGAPORE: Singapore should be open to exploring new ways of enjoying sport even as the COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of letting up, said Sport Singapore (SportSG) CEO Lim Teck Yin.
Speaking in an interview with CNA this week, Mr Lim said that while there have been restrictions on sporting activities because of the pandemic, Singapore can turn this situation to its advantage.
"We have to wrap our minds around how it's going to be different but no less enjoyable. Some people will say, I wish I could play 5v5 basketball. But if we evolve our rules, we now can play 4v4 basketball. And 4v4 basketball could be just as interesting," he said.
"The mindset that I would like sporting Singapore to embrace is one where we're resilient enough not to be a victim. We can do something about this, we can have fun."
Groups of up to eight people are now allowed for sport activities after Singapore entered Phase 3 on Dec 28. This is up from five people previously. An additional service provider, such as an instructor or a coach, from a permitted enterprise is also allowed to guide the group for organised programmes and classes.
All sports and recreational activities were allowed to resume in Singapore's Phase 2 reopening in June. Combat sports that involve extensive body grappling, such as wrestling, mixed martial arts and jujitsu, were also allowed to resume in November.
And while team sports such as basketball, football, sepak takraw, hockey and volleyball can now resume, they are only allowed in a format no larger than 4v4.
"We know that at least for the year ahead, if not for the next two years, it's going to be a difficult time because Singapore is not operating in isolation of what's happening in the region or in the world," said Mr Lim.
"So, at least for the next one to two years, I think we're better served with the mindset of operating in the new normal, and to be able to capitalise on opportunities, based on Singapore's strengths and capabilities, to be able to make good use of this new normal."
In Phase 3, said SportSG, the maximum number of people allowed at each facility will be limited according to its gross floor area, based on 8 sq m per person, or 50 people, whichever is lower. This applies to all outdoor, indoor and sheltered facilities larger than 64 sq m. The limit is imposed to "minimise the risk of large clusters forming".
"We've got to think about how we innovate ... Yes, people want to play the way they're always played ... We have to be cognisant that the world is in a precarious position. So we can't just go about doing what we want to do," said Mr Lim. "But human beings are born to be inventive and we should just rather than lie down and play dead, get out there and change the game."
Despite these limitations on capacity, there has been growth in certain sectors of the sports industry, noted Mr Lim.
"Because of capacity constraints at sporting venues, because of limitations on the way team sport can be engaging, a lot of this activity is taking place in the physical exercise and fitness space, which is really fuelled by participation growth," he explained.
"The diversity, and the richness in terms of what's going on out there in Singapore, has been deeply encouraging.
"When we start to look at all the swim schools that we've now become aware of, all these small box gyms we've now become aware of, it suggests that the potential to consolidate and emerge stronger from the consolidation is one of the ways that we should capitalise on this whole COVID-19 crisis."
Mr Lim also noted that more and more have been participating in sports over the years and participation has returned to pre-pandemic levels.
"Over the years, participation has continued to rise. Pre-COVID, we saw new awareness of the importance of physical activity and participation rates were very healthy," he said. "And today ... we've gone back up to pre-COVID levels in terms of people's physical activity."
According to statistics from SportSG, an average of 66 per cent of Singapore citizens and permanent residents participated in one physical activity at least once a week in 2019. In the third quarter of 2020, the figure stood at 71 per cent, the same level as in the same period of 2019.
"People became aware of the need for physical activity. Perhaps pre-COVID, pre-circuit breaker, that need was not so apparent to those who were not participating. But I think the vast majority of Singaporeans believe that they need to exercise," said Mr Lim.
"And what we need to do to capitalise on that is to equip them with greater knowledge and access. Knowledge around how to reap the full benefits of the investment of time in exercise and knowledge around eating right, sleeping right."
'CONCERNS' AROUND TEAM SPORTS
While 2021 is gearing up to be a big year for Team Singapore's athletes due to a packed calendar of postponed events, Mr Lim said that the confluence of major games is "nothing new".
2021 could see Team Singapore's athletes involved in the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the AFF Suzuki Cup as well as the 2021 SEA Games, which are slated to be held in Hanoi, Vietnam.
"I think all athletes have been working hard, and those athletes who work harder will do better. But working harder has got many facets to it, it's not just training," he added.
For one, a critical part of the preparation for these major games will involve backroom staff working together to prepare for contingencies, said Mr Lim.
"I think the critical part to making it all work is all the backroom work that needs to go into the detailed planning and the logistics. So the coaches, the scientists, the administrators need to be working closely together to create all manner of plans and contingencies in particular," he said.
And while there are "concerns" around team sports, Mr Lim said it would be an opportunity for these athletes to step up.
"We have concerns around team sports. Because in Singapore's context, our team sports have not been able to (fully) resume. And in some other countries, we know that they haven't stopped training," he said.
"But again, I think our team sport athletes will have to show their mettle, recognising that conditions are not ideal, do what we can do and don't use that as an excuse for not showing up well."
SportSG is also in discussion with the Ministry of Health on how vaccinations of Team Singapore athletes can be carried out, revealed Mr Lim. The decision on which athletes will receive the vaccination has yet to be made.
TACKLING THE 'IN BETWEENS'
Mr Lim also revealed that SportSG is looking into ways in which they can further bolster safe coaching in Singapore's sports and fitness industry.
There have been a number of instances in recent years where people in the sports industry have been accused of or found guilty of criminal acts.
For instance, in July, a veteran athletics coach with more than three decades of experience was sentenced to 21 months in jail for molesting a teenage athlete twice in 2013.
"We've been looking at this quite carefully, to identify the risks and to be able to ask ourselves what is the role of the Government in being able to work with industry to manage the different risk factors," he said.
"If I use Safe Sport as an example, Safe Sport is an important body of work for the sporting ecosystem as it is for the fitness ecosystem. And so whatever we are thinking about for Safe Sport should be applicable and must have the ability to mitigate that risk in all industries where certain vocations are involved. So we are looking at that quite carefully, asking ourselves what sort of regulatory authority you would need on those fronts."
SportSG currently has a task force looking into this, noted Mr Lim, and there is likely to be "some resolution" into the matter next year.
To tackle such incidents of misconduct in local sport and safeguard participants, the Safe Sport Commission was launched last year.
Set up by SportSG in partnership with the Ministry of Social and Family Development, the Singapore Police Force and the Ministry of Education, the commission has, among other things, established a framework and a reporting process for safe sport-related matters.
Coaches are also regulated in Singapore under the National Registry of Coaches (NROC). Launched in 2003, the NROC is a registry which aims to raise the "standard and professionalism" of sports coaches in Singapore.
Coaches listed on the registry are certified under the Singapore Coach Excellence (SG-Coach) Programme in their respective sports and are required to abide by a code of ethics. Currently, all coaches employed by NSAs and by the Ministry of Education are NROC-listed coaches.
But given that the profession in Singapore is not licensed, there are coaches who are not under the registry.
"For sport coaches, we already have existing structures and mechanisms. The question is, how much those mechanisms extend to those that are outside our employ because today you know that if you are going to be a coach in MOE, in Active SG, you need to be in NROC," said Mr Lim.
"So, how do we think about the reach being able to encompass coaches that are coaching in condominiums etcetera."
Mr Lim noted that it is also important to address the "in betweens"- for instance what would happen to a coach in between the time a police report is lodged and the investigation is completed.
"If a police report is made against a coach (who is) coaching in MOE or ... in Active SG, that coach will be suspended in the interim, or at least suspended after initial investigations show there is some veracity to the claim and the report," he said.
"But in the case of coaching in a public park for example, it's less clear that today we are able to stop that from happening so that those are the kind of issues that we need to address."