Their turn in the limelight

The spotlight finally fell on athletes too often left in the shade as the ASEAN Para Games (APG) opening ceremony delivered a thoughtful message to the watching world.

Crafted with the struggles people with disabilities encounter in mind, last night's 90-minute show was full of symbolism.

From an autistic teen dancer to a choir led by hearing-impaired singers and musical acts performed by students from local special needs school, the Singapore Indoor Stadium was rich with the theme of inclusiveness and tolerance.

For the first time, the opening ceremony was broadcast live to other countries - Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines - besides the host nation - and included sign language interpreters on stage and live captioning.

As first-time host of the APG, the Republic is hoping to leverage on the event to promote greater social integration. People with disabilities form about 3 per cent of the resident population.

Said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu: "The APG is not just a sporting competition; it is a milestone for every Singaporean, as we mark the start of a movement to build a more inclusive society through sport."

The hosts are fielding a record 154 athletes to compete in all 15 sports, more than three times what the Republic has sent to the seven previous Games.

This edition will feature 1,200 athletes - including several Paralympic champions like Thai stars Rungroj Thainiyom (table tennis) and Prawat Wahoram (wheelchair racing) - with free entry to all events until the final day of competition next Wednesday.

Expect memorable moments "that will inspire and move us all in many ways", said ASEAN Para Sports Federation president Zainal Abu Zarin, who helped launch the inaugural APG in Kuala Lumpur in 2001.

For Huzaini Mahbob, this was a priceless opportunity to watch his 26-year-old son Dinie Asyraf, who suffers from a spinal injury, compete in the table tennis event.

Said Huzaini, 53: "I am very proud of him, not everybody has a chance to represent Singapore."

Added swimmer Yip Pin Xiu, who is the country's sole Paralympic Games gold medallist (Beijing 2008) and will compete in three events at the OCBC Aquatic Centre: "It's really special that the APG is finally here.

"It signifies that Singapore is moving forward and stepping into a whole new level for para sports."

Surpassing Singapore's best haul - 16 golds, 10 silvers and 11 bronzes won at the 2001 edition - will undoubtedly raise excitement levels.

Said Tay Wei Ming, a two-time APG badminton champion competing in his fourth Games: "I think we can do very well.

"Morale is high among the contingent with the support of the public. We are very motivated."

This article was first published on December 4, 2015.
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