A promise to athletes serving NS

SINGAPORE - The new Sports Excellence Scholarship (spexScholarship) will be suspended temporarily for elite male athletes when they are in National Service (NS).

These athletes will be given a period of between six and nine months after they complete NS to get back up to speed.

Both Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck and Singapore Sports Institute (SSI) executive director Fabian Lim made the promise on Tuesday, during a briefing of the new elite athlete development programme.

The $40 million programme is set to begin in September, with about 60 athletes chosen from 218 nominations spread across 28 sports.

Both Mr Teo and Associate Professor Lim explained that the spexScholarship demands "full-time" commitment - while recipients can study and work, they are expected to place training and competition as their top priorities, which athletes in NS will be unable to fulfil.

Said Mr Teo: "If they qualify for the scholarship at 15 or 16, we won't take them out just because of their NS obligations.

"Go ahead and serve, I will reserve their place for them and they can come back and build themselves (after that).

"If you are serving your NS obligations, I don't see why you should be dropped."

Lim added: "NS will always be part of our sports eco-system, we take it and we work with it.

"If athletes are in NS and have the potential... SSI's role is to be very close to the ground and know who are the ones and track them."

However, both stressed that the athletes will still be supported via their respective national sports associations.

They may also receive training assistance through the Singapore Sports Council's carding system, as well as the Singapore Armed Forces Sportsmen Scheme.

Young male athletes, with the potential of making it big on the world stage, have made the news over their athletic achievements in recent years.

These include footballer Adam Swandi, along with swimmers Joseph Schooling, Quah Zheng Wen and Darren Lim.

These teens are all due to undergo NS over the next few years.

"The NS issue is something that MCCY, Mindef and the Singapore Sports Council are discussing now," said Mr Teo.

"They have to figure out how to help these athletes as they serve their NS obligations.

"But I want to give athletes assurance that if you qualify for this programme and halfway through it you need to serve your NS, I won't take you out of the programme."