Para-athletes get standing ovation from the House

Team Singapore's 13-strong contingent at the Rio Paralympics was accorded a distinguished honour when the para-athletes were formally congratulated by Parliament yesterday, after a showing that was historic in more ways than one.

The sombre setting of the House made way for smiles and applause as the country's leaders gave the para-athletes a 30-second standing ovation for their feats.

This is the second time athletes have been honoured in Parliament. In August, swimmer Joseph Schooling received a standing ovation for winning the 100m butterfly gold at the Rio Olympics. The nine para-athletes present also had lunch with the politicians.

In Rio, Singapore fielded its largest contingent and had its best-ever medal haul - two golds and a bronze.

Swimmer Theresa Goh, who won a bronze in the 100m breaststroke SB4 in Rio, best summed up the sentiments of her teammates when she said: "It was surreal. It's not every day you get this kind of ovation. It's really nice to be recognised."

Yip Pin Xiu added one gold each in the 50m backstroke S2 and 100m backstroke S2. The 2008 Beijing Paralympic champion also finished with two world records.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, who moved the motion to congratulate the Paralympians, said: "These 13 extraordinary athletes have shown us that with hard work and sacrifice, we can realise our dreams.

"Their achievements also exemplify how a nation as small as ours can punch above its weight."

Ms Fu named each athlete, sharing snippets of their sporting journey, including equestrienne Gemma Rose Foo, who ruptured her spleen when she fell from her horse six months before the Paralympics.

Others followed Ms Fu in hailing the para-athletes, including Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, MPs Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) and Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC), Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong and Central Singapore District Mayor Denise Phua.

Mr Tan, who is also president of the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC), hailed the families and friends of the Paralympians for helping them "realise their dreams".

He also spoke about forging a more inclusive society, adding: "I call on all Singaporeans to play an active role in this inclusive journey. In big and small ways, never underestimate the difference we can make, whether as family members, classmates, employers, neighbours or simply as members of the public."

Ms Lim recalled how some of her friends' children with disabilities were buzzing with excitement during the Paralympics. She said: "Now, their children were seeing before their very own eyes that, through sporting competition, they too could one day don the national colours and bring glory to Singapore."

Ms Phua hailed them as role models for all Singaporeans, noting: "If you can do it, then perhaps the rest of us can rise above our daily ailments, grievances and complaints and take on life the way you do, against the odds; making lemonade of the lemons we are handed in life."

Ms Chia, president of the Society for the Physically Disabled, rounded off the speeches with an impassioned take on how far para-sport has come since Singapore first participated in the 1988 Paralympics. She also touched on equal prize money.

Under the Singapore National Paralympic Council's Athlete's Achievement Award Programme, a Paralympic gold has a $200,000 award, and a bronze, $50,000. The SNOC's Multi- Million Dollar Award Programme awards $1 million for an Olympic gold and $250,000 for a bronze. Both programmes are funded by the Tote Board and Singapore Pools.

Ms Chia said: "More than cash payment, it is about inclusion... If we persist in having two different standards of treatment between athletes and para-athletes, we reinforce the erroneous perception that people with disabilities are not able, and strengthen the barriers against building an inclusive society."

She also called on Singaporeans to back para-sports more. "The best of government schemes will not be good enough if we do not play our part to support our para-athletes.

"Get out of (the) living room. Can we be, if nothing else, a spectator?"

• Additional reporting by Nicole Chia

This article was first published on Nov 08, 2016.
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