Say yes to weightlifting, please

SINGAPORE - Football is the most popular sport in the country, Singaporeans of every creed and colour play the game, they all will be found in the stands when the Lions come out to roam.

If football sits alone as the people's game here, then swimming, badminton, athletics, bowling, sailing and shooting occupy a seat at the same table.

Along with weightlifting and now table tennis, I would think.

All these sports show off a proud history in Singapore, with star names, medals, milestones and memorable marks part of their folklore.

All except weightlifting will be on the programme at the 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games, which Singapore will host in June next year.

It is a shame.

Some of the weightlifting officials from regional heavyweights travelled here on Wednesday to make a presentation and file an appeal to the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) for the sport's inclusion next year.

PROVIDE EXPERTISE

They were willing to provide the expertise - both technical and financial, worth $1 million - to ensure weightlifting will be carried off successfully at the Games and help grow the sport here.

But Dr Tan Eng Liang, the SNOC vice-president, and Chris Chan, the secretary general, rejected the appeal.

The decision is puzzling.

Singapore Weightlifting Federation (SWF) president Tom Liaw had hoped to have the sport in the international limelight at the 2015 Games, he believes his athletes also have a shot at bagging a couple of medals.

With the sport still trying to re-establish itself after years in the wilderness, in all likelihood gold will be out of reach, especially when there are a sprinkling of world-class weightlifters in Thailand and Indonesia.

Crucially, though, having weightlifting on the Singapore stage next year is the logical next step in the effort to continue to blow wind in the sails of the sport, after it took a bow at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games here in 2010.

Petanque is among the 36 sports set to feature at the SEA Games in 2015, although the final list will be ratified by the end of this month.

I can imagine many will wonder how petanque can best weightlifting in the programme, but this is a particular quirk of the SEA Games.

SNOC's Chan attested to that fact when he said more member nations backed petanque than weightlifting.

Even so, this is a missed opportunity for Singapore weightlifting.

Chan says the organisers have reached the limit with 36 sports and they have had to turn away many other appeals.

Surely an exception can be made for weightlifting, which takes up a significant chunk of the Singapore sports story.

DOPING

Admittedly, over the years on the international stage, the sport has been scarred by many cases of doping.

But it is slowly cleaning up its act.

If many weightlifters of the past were powerful, overweight behemoths, more and more modern-day athletes are fit, muscled specimens who revel in technique as well as strength.

Weightlifting is more and more macho these days, and since the 2000 Sydney Games, women weightlifters also go for gold at the Olympics.

Singaporeans should get the chance to feel the unique atmosphere of the weightlifting hall; there is no better way to lure youngsters to the sport than hosting an international event.

Dr Tan was a water-polo star for Singapore in the late 1950s through to the 1960s. He had the best seat in the house during Singapore weightlifting's golden years.

I am sure he will never forget the moment when Tan Howe Liang stood proud like a weightlifting gladiator in Rome when he won Olympic silver in 1960. Football is sacred in Singapore.

But weightlifting also has a special place here, even if it has been in the doldrums for a long time.

It needs a boost.

It was part of the programme on the three occasions Singapore has hosted the region's biggest multi-sport event.

If the SNOC wants to evaluate local weightlifting, I'm sure Liaw would be most willing to take Dr Tan and company on an educational tour.

I hope Dr Tan and the rest of his team will reconsider, and make it four out of four.

leonardt@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 4 in The New Paper.

Get The New Paper for more stories.