ASEAN Para Games: Para games to spur para-sports growth

Even as Team Singapore bask in the bounty of a best-ever haul at the ASEAN Para Games (APG), officials are already looking ahead - to do better for people with disabilities, engage more of them and help disabled athletes hit higher targets.

The completion of a successful APG, the first to be held in Singapore, merely signals the continuation of a journey in which there is still much that can be done.

For one thing, the officials are keen to ride on the momentum built from a stellar showing at home - the Republic won a historic 63 medals, including 24 golds - to expose more people with disabilities to sport.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu is hopeful that more will be spurred to believe that sport, even at the elite level, is possible for people with disabilities.

"That's probably where the Games can make the biggest impact," she said during a post-Games review yesterday at Marina Bay Sands.

"Not the 152 or so athletes who participated - but maybe the thousands, and tens of thousands of people with disabilities who can start taking up sport and, hopefully, some will make it to the excellence level," she added.

Plans are already afoot to introduce measures that will strengthen the disability sports scene in Singapore. Ms Fu had revealed last week that Centres of Expertise in disability sports will be set up at five ActiveSG sports centres, and a full list of other recommendations is expected early next year.

Ms Fu, who is also chairman of the Singapore APG organising committee, added that the Games have also shed light on improvements that can be made in both infrastructure and programmes for people with disabilities.

"(The APG has) taught us the potential things we can do to make training facilities more accessible," she said.

"The blueprints we'll talk about early next year will be about improvements we can make to both 'hardware' and 'software'."

Grassroots competitions, noted Singapore Disability Sports Council president Dr Teo-Koh Sock Miang, are possible avenues that will allow athletes with and without disabilities to compete and participate together.

Hopes of taking disability sport here to the next level are encouraging, with many among Singapore's participating para-athletes - 60 per cent of whom were debutants at the APG - eyeing competition beyond the regional level.

Said Sport Singapore's chief executive officer Lim Teck Yin: "Even among debutants, they are interested in becoming a Paralympian.

"The aspirations are there.

"At the APG level, we have to start work now.

"We've got to get working on bringing on some new blood and letting the current athletes play their part in coaching, sparring and mentoring."

Added Dr Teo-Koh: "Even those who didn't win any medals are committed to represent Singapore and want to be counted to be there at the next Games."

But just as high performance in able-bodied sports is based on a broad pool of athletes, disability sports also need to be built on a similarly strong foundation.

Said Ms Fu: "In order to have a team at the very high level, you need to develop from the ground.

"These are all visions that we have for disability sports. It's going to be a lot of hard work, and the hard work of many stakeholders that have to come together.

"It's not going to be easy but I think what the Games has shown us is the possibilities of what the human spirit can do to overcome physical constraints."

This article was first published on Dec 11, 2015.
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