Making sports a way of life

Promoting healthful community habits is an important goal of the sporting culture that is being nurtured by the Singapore Sports Council (to be known as Sport Singapore from next month). This would represent ample justification for the outlay of $1.5 billion under the first phase of the sports facilities masterplan. The generous sum will enable most Singaporeans to walk to a sports venue within just 10 minutes. Sports facilities envisaged range from large-scale regional complexes of playing fields, pools and ball courts, of which five are planned in locations like Punggol and Tampines, to recreations tailored for local-area residents in towns and Housing Board precincts. Together with the islandwide park connector and school football fields and indoor halls selectively available for booking, there will be no lack of amenities.

While the striving for competitive success pulsates in facilities like the Kallang Sports Hub, regional stadiums and the Sports School, there is no mistaking the community focus of Vision 2030, the sports blueprint adopted in 2011. Hence, the return on outlay in sports and recreation will be judged on the level of public access and participation.

People must want to use the facilities on their own, within informal groups or through organised programmes. For the elderly, walking and cycling clubs and taiji classes are ideal. The towns' grassroots networks should get involved as facilitators to get older people out and about. A cultural change is required at all levels of society: where young and old now spend time crawling malls and visiting foodcourts, they could get better rewards from investing some of it on exercise with family and friends.

A research study on global levels of physical activity, published by the British medical journal Lancet in 2012, found that South-east Asia was the most physically active region. Only 17 per cent of South-east Asians as a whole were adjudged to be "inactive", with Malaysia rating 61 per cent inactive, the highest in South-east Asia. For Asia, the surprise was that a high 60 per cent of the slim and long-living Japanese were considered slothful, compared with 31 per cent in China and 16 per cent in India. Singapore was not included in the data but as there was a correlation between high per capita incomes and lower levels of activity, the implication would not be lost on Singaporeans.

The Lancet made a point of saying lack of exercise, implicated in heart disease and diabetes, was the fourth main cause of death. This would be reason enough to support ActiveSG, the movement to draw all to sports regardless of skill levels. Yet another benefit beckons: developing social ties when people play together in one of the five islandwide sport zones.