Mdm Deputy Speaker, I rise in support of the Motion raised by the Member for Sengkang GRC Assoc Prof Jamus Lim and Member for Aljunied GRC Mr Faisal Manap.
On behalf of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), I would first like to offer my congratulations to TeamSG’s athletes and para-athletes for their achievements at the 32nd Southeast Asian Games and the 12th ASEAN Para Games in Cambodia.
TeamSG’s 51 gold medals at the SEA Games and 12 gold medals at the ASEAN Para Games are the third and fourth highest away from home soil in our history respectively. Our athletes and para-athletes have done themselves, their families and their country proud.
We call on the Government to continue to review Singapore’s sporting ecosystem and identify opportunity areas where we can provide more support to help our nation and our athletes achieve greater success in the coming years.
I have two areas of review to suggest.
One area of review in our sporting ecosystem is in the selection of athletes to represent Singapore at international sporting competitions, such as the SEA Games and Asian Games.
This has been the source of some controversy recently, with marathoner Soh Rui Yong being omitted from the national team for the forthcoming Asian Games in Hangzhou because of his controversial comments on social media.
While this has been extensively covered by the Leader of the Opposition and clarified further by Mr Mark Chay, however, please allow me to speak up one more time for Soh Rui Yong.
At the recent SEA Games, Soh Rui Yong has once again shown that he is a talented and record-setting runner. He has demonstrated the potential to continue bringing glory to Singapore at the Asian Games.
However, he cannot do so because he has supposedly not met the SNOC’s selection criteria, which encompass athletes’ attitudes, behaviours, general conduct and disciplinary history.
We think this is a very serious matter to disqualify an athlete for non-performance reasons. We call for greater objectivity and transparency in the selection criteria for athletes to represent Singapore at major sporting events. More clarity is needed around the process by which an athlete is disqualified from representing Singapore.
PSP also believes that all sports associations should be led by people with professional expertise and interest in the sport. This will ensure that Singapore’s sporting ecosystem is driven by athletes who know how to succeed in the sport and are committed to have the sport succeed in Singapore.
Such leaders will be more likely to understand the needs of our professional athletes and be able to work with them to advance Singapore’s international standing in these sports.
Another area where we can provide greater support to athletes as a nation is greater flexibility around National Service (NS) obligations, which I have spoken on last August. This would make a great difference to the sporting careers of our male athletes.
Last year, our Olympic gold medallist Joseph Schooling called for a national dialogue on managing expectations of athletes undergoing National Service. He related to the media the challenges of serving NS and trying to excel in the pool at the same time and the expectations from the public to perform.
In 2018 and 2022, the Minister for Defence explained Singapore’s deferment policies in this House, which are grounded in the principles of national security, universality and equity. These principles mean that every Singaporean must serve NS at the time he is required to do under the Enlistment Act.
However, in recent years, there are many Singaporeans who are concerned that many male foreigners are given citizenship without having to serve NS while our male sports talents miss out on the opportunity to develop their sporting careers because they must serve NS.
In the area of sports, PSP supports allowing a small number of our most talented male athletes to receive long deferments for NS so that they can reach their full athletic potential and maximise the opportunity to bring glory to our nation.
The policies around such deferments should be determined through a national dialogue around NS deferments. We believe it is timely to have such a dialogue to discuss how the criteria for such deferments can support our young male athletes in achieving sporting success while still being explicit, transparent and fair, and satisfy the principles of national security, universality and equity. Mdm Deputy Speaker, PSP is confident that if you do more to build a stronger sporting ecosystem in Singapore, our nation will be able to scale greater heights of sporting success in the years to come. Thank you. For country, for people.