The two golds that 15-year-old sailors Bernie Chin and Samantha Yom won at the Youth Olympic Games are testimony to the ability of a city-state to produce winners on a world scale. This is true of many fields, of course, but sports were one area in which Singaporeans felt that they could perform much better than they generally did. Paralympic gold medallist swimmer Yip Pin Xiu showed in 2008 how Singaporeans could beat the odds, and the two latest winners have confirmed that reputation.
These victories should encourage more Singaporeans, including young people, to see themselves as forming the vanguard of a new sports culture. The flowering of that culture would be helped no doubt by the incentives on offer, such as the $40 million set aside to fund elite athletes. The $1.33 billion Sports Hub is a substantial investment in the infrastructure necessary to facilitate sporting excellence. However, monetary incentives help only up to a point. What makes the difference ultimately is a mindset which views success in sports as being a worthwhile contribution to society, as are brilliance in the sciences and the crossing of imaginative boundaries in the arts. Parents who urge their children to take up sports as a mental challenge as much as a physical one, to value sportsmanship as much as victory and not to be dejected by defeat, help to nurture the culture of sports that Singapore needs to celebrate.
It is significant that Samantha and Bernie are from top educational institutions, which suggests that academic and sporting pursuits can and do go together. The larger point is that society owes it to itself to prize sporting excellence, as it does academic success, as one of the ways in which Singapore can distinguish itself on the world stage. These two achievers, along with other winners who have made Singapore proud, will light the fires of ambition in many.
This article was first published on August 31, 2014.
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