Even as Singapore makes grand plans to host the 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games next year, it will also ensure that disability sports will not be left behind as it pushes to become an all-inclusive sporting nation.
Speaking at the Singapore Disability Sports Council's (SDSC) 40th anniversary charity dinner and awards night, held at the Raffles City Convention Centre on Wednesday night, Lawrence Wong, Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, made a pledge to further the cause.
"The Government is committed to providing more support for disability sports," he said. "This is part of our vision for all Singaporeans to live better through sports."
Last night, SDSC revealed that it has raised more than $250,000 for its athletes after three months of fundraising. Singapore's disability sports community will be in the limelight next year, when the Republic hosts the 8th ASEAN Para Games for the first time from Dec 3 at the new Sports Hub.
Singapore fielded 52 athletes at last year's Games in Myanmar and Wong hopes to double the size of the contingent for next year's event.
"The Singapore Sports Council (SSC) will work closely with the Singapore National Paralympic Council and the SDSC to identify these athletes and support their preparations and training," he said. Under the Government's Sports Facilities Masterplan, new sports centres will be set up.
Through ActiveSG, the national movement for sports, the suit of programmes for all ages and abilities will be expanded. And the SportCares movement will also reach out to disadvantaged and vulnerable members of society.
"With these initiatives and programmes, we can and will progressively break down the barriers that often prevent people with disabilities from participating in sport," Wong added.
"We will build more physical access to our facilities, such as ramps for swimming pools, and hold a central stock of specialised equipment that may be required for training.
"Our aim is to provide Singaporeans of all abilities with the opportunity to participate in sport." The SDSC has come a long way since its humble beginnings four decades ago, when only two athletes were sent to the 1974 Commonwealth Paraplegic Games.
While swimmers Yip Pin Xiu and Theresa Goh, and equestrian star Laurentia Tan, have done Singapore proud winning medals at the Paralympics, the Republic still lags behind many regional countries in terms of medals and participation.
At the last ASEAN Para Games, Singapore finished seventh out of 10 countries with seven gold, 10 silver and nine bronze medals. Indonesia topped the charts with a whopping 99 gold, 69 silver and 49 bronze medals.
SSC CEO Lim Teck Yin believes that it is equally important to make disability sports more accessible to Singaporeans, and to increase participation. "We have to think clearly and carefully about the legacy of the ASEAN Para Games," he said.
"The usual suspects will contend for the medals, but we also want to know the stories, spirit and courage of the new kids on the block, like paddler Jason Chee last year in Myanmar.
"We will host test events in public areas and improve in areas like capability and development, outreach, coaching and infrastructure. "We also want corporate sponsors to come on board not just for the money, but also for their time and expertise."
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