SINGAPORE - If the Singapore Bowling Federation had a choice, it will not want Jessie Phua to leave.
Robin Yap, the Singapore Bowling Federation (SBF) vice-president, who was speaking at the association's Chinese New Year celebration and awards night yesterday, described the businesswoman and former Nominated Member of Parliament as "irreplaceable".
Yap (right, inset) was responding to The New Paper's report on Wednesday that SBF chief Phua was considering vying for the post of Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) president.
On Tuesday, SSA president Jeffrey Leow confirmed with TNP that he will step down in June after eight years in charge. When contacted on Wednesday, members of the swimming fraternity said the new leadership has to address issues like the welfare of athletes, grooming of local coaches and the promotion of the sport.
If Phua does decide to throw her hat into the ring and succeeds, it is clear that two of Singapore's biggest national sports associations (NSAs) will be in for changes, whether she decides to leave the SBF or handle both portfolios.
"As an individual, Jessie, for Singapore bowling, is irreplaceable, because of her commitment to the sport, her foresight and because her heart is with bowling," said Yap, who pointed out that the SBF president had not revealed anything to the main committee regarding the issue.
"Whoever steps up (if she steps down as SBF president) has very big shoes to fill, because Jessie has turned Singapore bowling into a sport with many world champions today."
Singapore bowlers have hit the heights over the years, collecting a gold each at the 2006 and 2010 Asian Games.
In 2006, Remy Ong won the singles and All Events at the men's world championships, while Jasmine Yeong-Nathan (2008) and Shayna Ng (2012) both won AMF World Cup crowns.
Former national coach William Woo, who has worked with Phua for many years, feels his former boss is capable of running both the SBF and SSA.
Said Woo: "Jessie is a great leader - she delegates things well, and to the right people.
"Already she is wearing a lot of hats and she always has the most capable people around her to help, so I think she is definitely capable of handling two NSAs."
Phua was missing from the SBF celebration on Wednesday night at Royal China at Raffles as she is on holiday in the United States.
While the likes of Tao Li and Joseph Schooling have made waves in the pool for Singapore in recent years, the swimming community believes more needs to be done for the sport.
One long-time member of the fraternity, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: "Currently, the promotion of the sport at grassroots level is mostly left to clubs, many of which are essentially commercial entities.
"They are doing well without much support from the SSA at the moment, but not many coaches have experience running a business. What if the business fails? Who will take over the growth of the sport then?"
The same member questioned whether enough was being done to produce elite Singaporean coaches.
"Other than Gary (Tan, former national swimmer), how many other young coaches are there? What happens when the likes of David (Lim) and (Ang) Peng Siong eventually retire?" he asked.
One elite swimmer added: "The new leadership of the SSA should be clear on their policies - for example, there was supposed to be a one-off selection trial for the South-east Asia (SEA) Games last year but eventually there were more.
"It doesn't help with the swimmers' preparations when rules change."
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