Lawrence Wong: School Sports Facilities will Eventually be Opened for Public Use

Nominated Member of Parliament Benedict Tan gave a spirited argument about how sports participation and facilities need to improve in Singapore but instead got a lukewarm response from the Minister of Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong.

Mr Tan spoke about the “manifestation of a systemic disease in Singapore’s sports participation framework” in parliament yesterday. 

“Singaporeans are pragmatic – we are goal oriented and we monitor closely our key performance indicators (KPIs). We pay close attention to what is tangible and measureable, i.e. medals and grades,” Mr Tan said.

“Without fail, before each Major Games, the media will ask me, as President of Singapore Sailing, what is our medal target and whether we are on track. 

“Do they ever ask me whether our sailors truly enjoy sailing, whether they are familiar with Singapore’s rich maritime history, whether our sailors see sailing as a lifelong pursuit, whether they are inculcated with the desired values, or whether we have sailors who sail for reasons other than medals?” Mr Tan lamented.

“I wish they did, because those are the pertinent questions that matter much more than the medals,” he said.

“What we need to do now is to pay more attention to mass participation, where the results and benefits are less tangible.”

Mr Tan then highlighted several statistics to warn of the dire situation of sports in Singapore. 

“The 2011 National Sports Participation Survey revealed that only 42% of Singaporeans exercised at least once a week, down from 50% in 2005. Compare this with Finland’s enviable 76% in 2005,” Mr Tan said.

“Participation levels fell amongst Singaporeans below 60 years of age, particularly those in their teens, which fell by 16% to 68%.

“Even school teams face the threat of being scrapped simply because they can’t achieve a podium finish.

“Are our schools too focused on winning medals, at the expense of sports participation?” Mr Tan asked.

“Singaporeans are struggling with their fitness levels. A lecturer at one of our polytechnics estimates that 70% of poly students fail their NAPFA test. Another lecturer at a different polytechnic cited a failure rate of 60-70%. 

“Pre-enlistees struggle to get fit for national service and many NSmen struggle with their Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) as well. 

But the lower rate of sports participation has health effects which are beginning to take root in Singapore. 

“Reduced fitness levels in turn lead to increased obesity rates and a heavier burden of chronic diseases. Singapore’s prevalence of obesity rose from 6.9% in 2004 to 10.8% in 2010 while diabetes rose from 8.2% in 2004 to 11.3% in 2010,” Mr Tan said. 

“The struggle for recreational space, especially for sports, is escalating,” he added. 

“Each of these points represents a major obstacle to Singaporeans inculcating a positive sports and exercise culture. 

“Collectively, they form a formidable barrier to sports participation.

“Each of these issues fall under the purview of a few agencies – this is reminiscent of the fishball stick anecdote that PM Lee shared at the last National Day Rally. I hope we won’t need a sports equivalent of the Municipal Services Office to systematically address these multifaceted challenges. 

“But at the same time, let us not wait till our obesity levels catch up with the west, or for our healthcare costs to creep further up, or for the pipelines to our national teams to run dry before we strengthen our resolve to address these emerging gaps in Singapore’s sports participation,” Mr Tan ended off by saying.

However, in response, Minister Wong seemed to brush aside Mr Tan’s concerns. 

“Dr Tan cited the National Sport Participation Survey in 2011 where the proportion of Singaporeans who exercised at least once a week dropped to 42% (from 50% in 2005),”Mr Wong said. 

“The NSPS is done once every 5 years, and so the next one is due in 2016.  But in the years in between, we’ve done some annual surveys to get more updated data on sports participation. And our latest surveys for 2013 and 2014, show that the overall participation levels have gone up to above 60%. We are not quite at Finland which is 70-something percent, but we are making progress. I think we should continue to make progress.”

Mr Wong then went on some fluffy description on how the sports scene in Singapore is still doing well.

“One of the things that struck me when we had those conversations was that Singaporeans do continue to have a strong interest in sport. It is not just the people who have experiences in the past and reminisce about the good old days. 

“Young Singaporeans still continue to have an interest in Sports. There is nothing like sports that continue to excite us, stir our passions, and bring our community together.  

“And you can certainly see and feel that among the participants at the various sporting events and activities. There are many in our calendar. They are well attended, and you can feel the excitement among the participants at all of these events, be it a football game, or when we won at the recent Asian Championships for netball in the new Singapore Sports Hub. 

“The crowd was cheering for Team Singapore and the excitement was palpable,” Mr Wong rattled on and on.

“So I believe that many Singaporeans, young and old, continue to enjoy sports, and they want to get involved in sports. What they need is perhaps more opportunities to participate and to experience the joy of sports together,” Mr Wong insisted.

Mr Wong then spoke of how people how taking part in sports in more creative ways now.

“In the past, the swimming pools were left very much to the more serious swimmers to do their regular training and laps. Now, we have more fun and innovative programmes in the pool, including aqua basketball, aqua spinning – which is cycling in the water which has less impact on the knees and are popular with the elderly. We also have flippa ball, a modified form of water polo. It is a junior version, so it is good for the kids.

“With all these programmes, we are seeing an increase in the number of people coming to the swimming pools, and also a change in the profile – more families spending their weekends at our swimming complexes.

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Mr Wong did address Mr Tan’s concerns about the “struggle for recreational space”. 

“We are progressively improving our existing facilities, like the Ang Mo Kio Swimming Complex,” Mr Wong said.

“To make the most of our limited land space, we are also working with MOE to open up the sporting facilities in schools for the public’s use during after-school hours. We have seen very good response to these Dual-Use Scheme (DUS) facilities, so we’re working with MOE to open more such facilities. 

“For new schools, we are making sure that the facilities are built and designed with dual use in mind. For existing schools, close to half of them already have dual-use, operating on a dual-use model. 

“Our aim is to eventually open up all school sport facilities for dual use, so that the sports facilities can be open up for the public. This year, we are making progress by putting 15 more indoor sports halls and 10 more school fields.”

However, on Mr Tan had said that “Too many of our young are not enjoying sports”, Mr Wong only continued to highlight the MOE’s framework.

“First, we want to actively expose our students to sports through a quality and rigorous PE curriculum. Lesson time set aside for PE has been increased to at least two hours per week. 

“The MOE has revised its PE & Sports Development Framework in the past year, to emphasise holistic development and encourage lifelong participation in physical activities, so the idea is to give students can have opportunities to acquire fundamental motor skills, gain exposure to a variety of sporting experiences and to participate recreationally in physical activities.

“Second, MOE has replaced the CCA points system with a revised co-curricular recognition system that places more emphasis on participation. The new system recognises participation in sports activities outside school, such as those organised by Community Clubs and National Sports Associations. So under this new system, students who engage in recreational sports can also aspire to achieve good CCA records. Again, an important shift because this addresses some of the concerns that the member raised.”

But Mr Wong does nothing to address how the young in Singapore could be encouraged to enjoy sports more.

In fact, Mr Wong simply spent much of his response to Mr Tan rehashing the programmes that the government currently already has.

But Mr Tan had said, “Yes, we had Sports for All in the ‘90s, and the current Vision2030 master plan, which adopts a more holistic outlook, has introduced ActiveSG. Nevertheless, there appears to be worrying trends emerging in our local sports culture.”

Still, it does not look like the government is responding with any solutions. Mr Tan was heard and that was all. There doesn’t look like there is much else the government wants to improve the sports scene in Singapore. 

 

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