As a doctor specialising in sports medicine, Benedict Tan meets many student-athletes and their parents.
Through the years, the former Singapore sailing star has noticed that youngsters from Singapore American School and United World College are desperate to recover from injuries as fast as possible because they want to get back playing.
Parents of Singaporean kids typically ask him to excuse their children from physical activity so that they can concentrate on their studies.
Tan pointed out that there are fewer opportunities today to learn sports in local schools, some of whom are cutting their sports programmes, and are "too focused on winning medals at the expense of sports participation".
Speaking in Parliament yesterday, the Nominated MP, who is also president of SingaporeSailing and patron for the Singapore Disability Sports Council, said: "I am worried because this is just one manifestation of a systemic disease in Singapore's sports participation framework.
"Singaporeans are pragmatic - we are goal-oriented and we monitor closely our key performance indicators... what we need to do now, is to pay attention to mass participation, where the results and benefits are less tangible."
In response, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said recent annual surveys have shown an increase in the sports participation rate among Singaporeans.
While the 2011 National Sports Participation Survey - done once every five years - revealed that 42 per cent of Singaporeans exercised once a week, down from 2005, Wong revealed that the MCCY has noticed the trend being reversed, through their annual "dipsticks" to track numbers.
He said: "I am glad to share that our latest surveys for 2013 and 2014 showed that the overall participation has in fact gone up to above 60 per cent.
"We are not quite at Finland's (level) which is 70 something per cent, but we have made progress. We should continue to make progress."
Singapore's sports minister pointed out that ActiveSG, the national movement for sports, has made progress in bringing more families together through sports since its inception last year.
The scheme has 670,000 active members today, taking part in a diverse range of programmes that are tailored for different age-groups and skill levels.
"We see many of such parent-and-children groupings coming together to participate in our programmes," said Wong.
"They are not doing it for medals, CCA (co-curricular activity) points or grades, but they are doing it because they enjoy the game.
"They have the opportunity to spend quality together as a family. That's one indicator of success."
He added that the MCCY is also working with the ministries of education and national development to ensure that Singaporeans can access more facilities for recreational sports activities in a land-scarce nation.
This will come through dual-use school sports facilities, as well as the rebuilding or refurbishment of public sports facilities under the Sports Facilities Master Plan.
Wong said that the upcoming South-east Asia Games in June, which Singapore will host for the first time in 22 years, will be another opportunity to get Singaporeans excited about sports.
He said: "We are working very hard to organise a good Games for our friends from the region. But we also want to make sure that we leave behind a lasting legacy of the Games for our Singaporeans, and I think that the legacy must be one where we get more Singaporeans onto our journey of participation in sports, supporting our Team Singapore athletes and, ultimately, living better through sports."
This article was first published on January 20, 2015.
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