As the guests settled down yesterday at the Singapore Sports Hub's OCBC Lounge, Majid Ariff stood up from his seat and sauntered to the back of the hall to survey the scene.
At and around his table were the former football maestro's old teammates and kakis - the likes of Hussein Aljunied, Jita Singh, Rahmat Mawar, as well as his protege Fandi Ahmad.
Beyond his table were more than 200 sporting pioneers, who were honoured last evening at a dinner gathering, attended by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong.
Majid said: "It's been some time since I've met up with my former teammates, so it is nice to get us together tonight for a dinner."
Said Jita, who flew in from Kuala Lumpur for the event: "A lot of the people here were willing to sacrifice their own time and money because they felt proud about representing their country.
"It's heartening to know that we are not forgotten, nor are we forsaken."
Familiar names such as Colin Schooling (softball), Dr Ben Tan (sailing) and Natahar Bava (athletics and rugby), were among the guests, along with 96-year-old former hockey and cricket player Gerald Clarke, the oldest pioneer last night.
In his speech, Minister Wong said: "When Singapore gained independence in 1965, our immediate priority was to provide housing, education and employment for the people.
"But thanks to our sports pioneers who knew that sport had the intrinsic ability to unite our people regardless of race, language or religion, they seeded the growth of a sporting culture in Singapore."
He announced that all pioneer athletes, officials and coaches who have been a part of Team Singapore at major Games will be offered free lifetime access to ActiveSG swimming pools and gyms.
They will also be invited to major sporting events and programmes at the Singapore Sports Hub, such as the South-east Asia Games next June and the ASEAN Para Games in December next year.
Sport Singapore CEO Lim Teck Yin said: "I don't think this is just about recognition... this is about reconnecting and establishing our networks with them.
"Whatever we offer them is a channel for us to bring them back and work together with them for sporting Singapore."
He added that they are "a lot more inclusive and energised" in getting the sporting pioneers involved in the present sporting landscape and try to utilise them in several areas, such as ActiveSG programmes or at the newly launched Singapore Sports Museum.
Lim said: "They were role models in their youth, they continue to be role models in their senior years."
This article was first published on October 10, 2014.
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