The ASEAN Para Games take place in Singapore for the first time from today till Wednesday. Team Singapore chef de mission Raja Singh will lead 154 athletes in battle in 15 sports. Here, he tells DAVID LEE about his expectations and goals for the Games.
1 Ready to rock and roll, Raja?
We are all ready. This is the best preparation we've had, in terms of training, diet, coaches, support and allowance, compared to all the ASEAN Para Games we have participated in.
The organising team have prepared for years. A lot of things have been shared, tested and executed.
2 What would constitute a successful Games?
We have to ask ourselves a few questions. Were we good hosts? Did we create enough awareness for the ASEAN Para Games? Did we bring together Singaporeans as one Team Singapore? Have we encouraged more people with disability to participate in sports?
If the answer is a resounding yes, then we have succeeded.
3 How about the competitive aspect for Team Singapore?
We won 16 golds, 10 silvers and 11 bronzes in the first one in Kuala Lumpur 2001 and when I was CDM for KL 2009, we won 14 golds, five silvers and three bronzes.
Sadly, it went down after that but I'm sure this year, on home soil and with a larger contingent, we will be able to outdo our previous results. That said, if it happens, great. If not, there will be a lot of lessons learnt for future Games.
4 What did you learn from your first stint as CDM?
In 2009, it was more about understanding how to manage a team at a Games. We had around 100 athletes participating in 11 sports.
I learnt how to manage the different sports, different segments within the sports, as well as different groups of people.
5 How different will it be this time?
The scope of the job is different mainly because Singapore are hosts. I have got to be on the ground a lot more to know what goes on exactly in every sport.
I have to ensure that things like equipment, food, training, harmony and team spirit are good.
Also, there are many debutants and they are still very raw, and some could still be figuring out what it takes to be an athlete. I've been sharing with them what they need to do, how to be composed and how they can go about achieving their goals.
I also have to be an ambassador of sorts and to help the other CDMs, because who else would know better about Singapore than a Singaporean?
In 2009, the Singapore contingent were smaller and it was easier to reach out to the athletes on the ground and know every one by name.
This year, we have 154 athletes, and I will have to depend a lot more on the team managers to bring the best out of every participant.
6 You are also an established para-athlete, having competed in two Paralympics. Tell us a little more about yourself.
I am married, with a 22-year-old son who is currently in National Service.
I was an army regular and served as a sergeant in the commando unit from 1979 to 1983. I was training for a commando triathlon and cycling when I banged into a stationary lorry. I was paralysed, my whole life changed and I was angry and depressed.
But sports helped to open a new path for me after that.
I was involved in wheelchair racing from 1984 to 1994, competed at two Paralympics in Seoul 1988 and Barcelona 1992.
I stopped completely in 1994 to set up my medical supply business and was so focused and busy that I had no time for sports.
I did come back to coach the wheelchair racing team in 2006 and, when the call was made for me to become CDM in 2009, I answered. This is not pressure, it's my pleasure to be able to contribute in this capacity.
In 2011, I got back to fitness and took part in hand cycling to keep fit.
My friend, Sport Singapore CEO Lim Teck Yin, made a passing remark that it's a shame that I'm not involved or competing in any sports.
That spurred me on to work my way to the 2014 Asian Para Games in Incheon where I finished fifth in the time trial and sixth in the road race, the best Singaporean performer in hand cycling.
I know my own standards now and I won't be aiming for the Paralympics.
I think I have another good four years to participate in para sports if I manage my injuries well and I'm aiming for one more Asian Para Games.
7 What kind of legacy do you want from these Games?
I want to see more people with disability participate in competitive sports. I would like more tournaments and competitions for para sports in Singapore, at least one for each of the 15 sports annually.
It will help to increase the standard of our para sports, raise awareness and in turn increase the level of spectatorship.
Make sports part of advanced rehabilitation for people with disability. Schools and organisations for the disabled should also come forward and volunteer information about how their students or members can play sports.
This would help the Singapore Disability Sports Council scout for potential para athletes.
The para sports infrastructure here has to grow, and inclusiveness can still improve. If the different stakeholders all do their part, para sports can be taken to a higher level and we will see more participation at both the recreational and elite levels.
This article was first published on December 3, 2015.
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