By Lediati Tan
HOPING to hone his skills on the Scrabble board, a Secondary 2 student took part in a Scrabble competition during the December school holidays.
Although Puviiraajan Selvaraja, a student at Marsiling Secondary School, went on to finish fourth in the intermediate division of the competition organised by the Jurong Green Community Club, his joy was short-lived.
When the 13-year-old - a school Scrabble player - returned to school in January, he was informed by his school that he would not be able to represent his school and play in the Inter-schools National Scrabble Championship (ISNSC) this year.
This is because under the ISNSC rules set by the organisers - the Schools Scrabble Club (SSC) and The Scrabble Academy (TSA) - players cannot participate in the ISNSC if they take part in events that are not sanctioned by the organisers.
That includes the competition organised by the Jurong Green Community Club.
Mr Tham Wai Kong, the vice-principal (Admin) of Marsiling Secondary, confirmed that Puviiraajan has been deemed ineligible by the organisers.
"This is because SSC/TSA-sanctioned events are organised for student participation and are pitched at the amateur level," he explained.
"Players who have participated in non-sanctioned events are deemed to be able to compete at a higher level, and are hence ineligible to represent their schools for the ISNSC."
The unusual ruling has saddened Puviiraajan, a student Marsiling Secondary School. He cried when he told his dad the bad news.
Said Puviiraajan: "I'm sad. After training for so long, then suddenly they say that I've been banned.
"I play to improve my skills in Scrabble. They should be happy that I want to improve."
His dad, too, was puzzled and outraged by the decision.
Mr Selvaraja Vinayakam, 49, a company administrator at an IT firm, said: "I was the one who asked him to take part in the competition to keep him occupied during the school holidays and also for the experience."
He felt it did not make sense to stop students from playing in games that are not sanctioned by the organisers.
He pointed out that students can also play online and against other players at home.
Although both Puviiraajan and his dad were aware of the ISNSC regulation, Mr Selvaraja said his son took part in the competition because the competition was organised by Jurong Green Community Club and he did not think that the SSC or TSA "would hold it against him".
Mr Tham said the school has appealed unsuccessfully to the organisers on Puviiraajan's behalf.
A spokesman for SSC said players who play in non SSC/TSA-sanctioned events are ineligible to represent their school in the ISNSC because "the rules, adaptations (to the game) and objectives of the ISNSC differ from that of external competitions".
For instance, the ISNSC does not allow the use of obscene or offensive words in its games and focuses more on team rather than individual interest, the spokesman said.
He added that a small number - an average of 0.15 per cent of participants - is deemed ineligible each year to represent their schools in the ISNSC because they took part in non-sanctioned competitions.
But he said there are students who have participated in Scrabble competitions held in various community clubs that are sanctioned by SSC and TSA and went on to represent their schools in the ISNSC.
Full-time NSman Toh Weibin, 19, an avid Scrabble player who won the World Youth Scrabble Championship (WYSC) in 2007, disagreed with the ruling.
He claimed that he too had to sit out the ISNSC in 2006 after playing in competitions not sanctioned by them. Though the ISNSC was a team competition, the players still play individually during the games, he noted.
Mr Toh said the regulation meant that teenagers who could have qualified for international competitions such as the WYSC would miss out on valuable experience.
"You have to be under 18 to play in the WYSC. If you want to play for your school, you can only play after Sec 4. With only two years (after Sec 4), you don't get as much exposure," he pointed out.
Despite not being able to play in the ISNSC, Puviiraajan still keeps up with his three-hour Scrabble training sessions twice a week.
He said: "It's not that I want to, I have to. It's to practise for next year. I also help to train other players."
His father added: "It's not just about my son, but also other students involved so they can have regional and international exposure and they can become masters in Scrabble at a younger age."
This article was first published in The New Paper.