Let the S’pore Sports Awards break down the barriers between our disabled and able-bodied athletes

The reports/letters:

There’s been a recent rash of letters in the Forum pages of The Straits Times and TODAY lamenting the lack of media coverage of our Paralympians in action at the Beijing Paralympics and clamouring for more equal treatment of our disabled athletes in light of their historic medal wins at the Games.

Most, if not all, are asking for better monetary rewards to be given to the likes of Yip Pin Xiu and Laurentia Tan after their gold, silver and bronze medal achievements at the Games.

Currently, able-bodied Singapore athletes get $1 million for a gold medal, $750,000 for a silver and $500,000 for a bronze at the Olympics. These rewards are given under the Singapore National Olympic Council’s Multi-Million Dollar Award Programme (MAP).

In stark contrast, our Paralympians get $100,000 for a gold, $50,000 for a silver and $25,000 for a bronze. These are given out by the Singapore National Paralympic Council under its Athlete Achievement Awards scheme which was only put in place in January this year.

You can read two such letters here and here.

My thoughts:

I am truly heartened by the growing collective voice of support for our disabled athletes.

As I wrote in my previous posting “New dawn beckoning for Singapore’s disabled athletes“, I think it’s a wonderful sign of a maturing Singapore society, one that is showing signs of being increasingly kinder, gentler and more inclusive.  

At this stage, it’s probably too late – and too early – to ask for our Paralympians to be given the same sort of monetary rewards as their Olympic peers.

Let’s face it. The Athlete Achievement Awards have been in place since January and no one really created a din about the unfairness of it all until now. And I guess that’s because there was little public knowledge of what the Paralympics are about, and little expectacy of our athletes delivering a medal, much less a gold, at the Beijing Paralympics.

Even Tan Ju Seng, the president of the Singapore Disability Sports Council, hailed the establishment of the AAA as a “foundation to recognise the achievements of  disabled athletes” (The Straits Times, 15 January 2008)

Essentially, this was what the Singapore Totalisator Board agreed to give (or fund up to 80 percent), and this was accepted with much gratitude by the SDSC back then.

And unless, some generous sugar-daddy corporation comes forward to pump in more money to boost the rewards that Yip Pin Xiu and Laurentia Tan will now be getting (and unfortunately, we haven’t heard of any coming forward just yet),  I feel it is unfair to suddenly turn to the Singapore Tote Board to ask for more money.

Instead, let us look at all these as small but positive steps forward. 

I think it’s good that our Paralympians are already getting a not-insignificant amount of financial reward for their achievements, as a way of acknowledging the hours of hard work, toil, sweat and tears that they have put into their training. 

And I am hoping that this growing public support, and increased public awareness of our Paralympians will lead to improvements being made to the AAA in time for the next SEA, Asian, Commonwealth and Paralympic Games.

But I do feel that there is one symbolic way by which the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, the Singapore National Olympic Council and the Singapore Sports Council can show that our Paralympians deserve to be seen in the same light as their able-bodied counterparts.

And that is to open up the nominations for the 2008 Sportswoman of the Year and Coach of the Year Awards to our Paralympians and their coaches – and to keep it like this permanently.

That will certainly go a long way in issuing a statement to the public that all sporting achievements, whether by our able-bodied or disabled athletes, are equal in the eyes of our sporting authorities.

It would be great to see swimmer Yip Pin Xiu in the mix for the Sportswoman of the Year Award alongside the likes of Tao Li and Feng Tianwei. 

After all, her achievements are no small feats – three world records in a year (one at the US trials, two at the Paralympics) and the honour of becoming Singapore’s first Paralympic gold medallist.

That compares more than favourably with what Tao Li (two Asian records, two national records, a fifth-spot finish in the 100m butterfly, and the milestone of being the first Singaporean swimmer to qualify for an Olympic swimming final) and Feng Tianwei (a third-placed finish in the World Cup and a women’s team silver medallist at the Olympics) have achieved.

(To be honest, when I read about how Pin Xiu overcame her disability – she has muscular dystrophy and risks losing her eyesight over time – and the fact that she may not be able to compete at the 2012 London Paralympics because of her condition, I can’t help feeling that she should be our Sportswoman of the Year. You can read about Pin Xiu’s struggles against her condition here and here).

Likewise, wouldn’t you say that Ang Peng Siong would make a far worthier candidate for Coach of the Year than national table tennis coach Liu Guodong? 

Ang has been more than a coach to swimmers Pin Xiu and Theresa Goh – he has been a mentor, an uncle, a father figure and a confidant to them and their parents.

More importantly, he succesfully fought the Paralympians to get sports science support in preparation for the Paralympics. You can read more about Ang’s contributions to the Paralympian team here.

When you compare that to how Liu ended up focusing more on the women’s team in the run-up to the Olympics, to the extent of neglecting the men’s team, and of favouring some members of the women’s team over others (which all, in turn, led to the controversial ‘Gao Ning-Lee Bee Wah” incident during the Olympics), I think the difference is quite clear to all to see.

It would be a significant day and a brand new chapter in the history of Singapore sport if Pin Xiu and Ang are not only nominated for the awards. And it would be fantastic if they end up winning them.

It’s all up to the MYCS, the SNOC and the SSC now. If this can happen, then you can expect more incremental changes to be made progressively to ensure that our disabled athletes are not only seen as equal to their able-bodied peers but are truly part of Team Singapore.

Fingers crossed.

Yours in sport,

Singapore Sports Fan

Related links:

15 Sept – Newsflash: Pin Xiu wins Singapore’s first Paralympic gold!

13 Sept – Newsflash: Swimmer Pin Xiu wins historic silver at Paralympic Games 

12 Sept: Newsflash – Theresa misses out on 100m breaststroke bronze at Paralympics

11 Sept: Newsflash – Laurentia Tan wins second bronze at Beijing Paralympics

10 Sept: New dawn beckoning for Singapore’s disabled athletes

8 Sept: Newsflash – Feng beats Wang to take bronze at World Cup

29 August – Singapore table tennis: Time for the new STTA regime to decide what are its values

26 August – Singapore table tennis: some foreign talents are clearly more equal than others.

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