5 Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong asked the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (a) whether Singapore's Paralympians should be equally rewarded and recognised as our Olympians for their sporting excellence; and (b) whether disabled athletes should be accorded the same level of infrastructural, funding and training support from the Government as able-bodied athletes
3 Mr Alex Yam asked the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (a) what is the current value of awards for Paralympic medallists under the Singapore National Paralympic Council Athletes' Achievement Awards scheme; (b) whether more can be done to recognise the efforts of our Paralympians; and (c) whether more can be done to raise public awareness of the inspiring stories of our athletes who go through much more challenges than able-bodied athletes.
4 Ms Tin Pei Ling asked the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (a) whether the current rewards for national sports athletes are sufficient; and (b) whether the Government will consider offering equal rewards to Olympic and Paralympic gold medallists.
The Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (Ms Grace Fu Hai Yien): The Athletes' Achievement Award (AAA) is managed by the Singapore National Paralympic Council (SNPC) and funded by sponsors. The scheme was initiated by the Singapore Disability Sports Council in 2002 to recognise the achievements of Team Singapore medallists at Major Games, such as the Paralympics, Asian Para Games, Commonwealth Games and the ASEAN Para Games. The Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) offers the Multi-Million Dollar Award Programme (MAP) for athletes who have medalled at Major Games, such as the Olympics, Asian Games and South East Asian Games, since 1991.
The SNPC and SNOC are Non-Governmental Organisations. The AAA and MAP are decided, respectively and separately, by SNPC and the SNOC, and their sponsors. This is in line with the general convention that monetary rewards for competitions in sports are largely funded by private means through sponsorships, donations and product endorsements.
There have been calls by members of the public to improve the rewards given to our athletes who have medalled, specifically Yip Pin Xiu for two Gold medals and Theresa Goh for one Bronze in the recent Rio 2016 Paralympics. I encourage the SNOC and SNPC to review the schemes with their sponsors, and for more corporations to step forward to support SNOC and SNPC on the awards.
As Member Mr Alex Yam has suggested, beyond monetary rewards, there are other meaningful ways in which Singapore society can support and recognise the efforts of our Paralympians. Some woke up early to tune in to "live" broadcasts to cheer on our own Team Singapore Paralympians in Rio. When the athletes returned, Singaporeans turned out in force to welcome them at the airport and to cheer them on during the Celebration Parade.
On the Government’s part, Yip Pin Xiu was inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame in 2015, standing alongside legends like Tan Howe Liang and Fandi Ahmad. In 2008, she was honoured with one of the nation’s highest accolades, the Meritorious Service Medal, in recognition of her first Gold medal at the Beijing Paralympics. Similarly, Joseph Schooling will be honoured with the Meritorious Service Medal for his first Olympic Gold medal at Rio.
I agree with the Member that our para-athletes demonstrate tremendous resilience and strength of spirit, and that we have much to learn from them. Sport Singapore (SportSG) has been profiling their journeys on social media and other platforms. Mediacorp has also broadcasted documentaries on Yip Pin Xiu and Theresa Goh recently in this regard. We will continue to share their inspiring stories with the public. Next month, I hope Members will join me in Parliament when I move a motion to congratulate our Paralympians for their excellent performance in Rio and celebrate their achievements.
To put the issue in perspective, what can make a difference to our national athletes – whether Olympian or Paralympian – is the combined assistance they receive from family, the community, corporates, the public and the Government. When all stakeholders work towards a common objective, we provide a strong and sustainable eco-system of support for them to pursue their sporting aspirations. Both Joseph and Pin Xiu have shown us the importance of family support.
Corporates can certainly make a difference, too. Instead of just a one-off cash prize, athletes would also welcome good career opportunities that can accommodate their sporting commitments and provide greater security and dignity when they retire from their sporting career. To enable this, SportSG has the SpexBusiness Network. As part of the scheme, for example, Deloitte provides quality opportunities to our national athletes, both able-bodied and those with disabilities. I encourage corporates and well-wishers to complement the roles that the Government plays in building up a sustainable eco-system of support for all our Team Singapore athletes.
On the Government’s part, our main role is to provide opportunities for all Singaporeans to pursue their sporting aspirations and achieve their full potential. Hence, our focus has been on providing a sustained, structured and comprehensive support system to help our Team Singapore athletes for podium positions at major games. Instead of focusing on post-podium rewards, we believe our role is to support our athletes upfront in their journey to the podium. We want more of them to get to the podium and bring pride to the nation. We support them through providing scholarships that pay them reasonably well to train full-time. We fund the National Sports Associations (NSAs) and Singapore Sports Institute so that the athletes can be guided by experienced professional coaches, physiotherapists and sport scientists, as they constantly challenge themselves to do better, swim faster, sail faster.
Our High Performance Sports system currently supports 1,653 carded athletes across 45 sports, at the cost of $60 million annually. And we have been expanding the scale of our programme at a sustainable pace over the last few years. SportSG would not be able to help as many aspiring athletes pursue their dreams if it had to divert resources to fund post-competition award schemes.
The Member Mr Daniel Goh asked whether Government should provide para-athletes with the same level of infrastructural, funding and training support as able-bodied athletes. The fact is that we already do. I wish to highlight three points here.
First, we value all our Team Singapore athletes tremendously. They inspire us as a nation, not just with their sporting achievements, but through their hard work, determination, perseverance, fighting spirit and commitment to excel. These are values that the nation should embrace, and the Government is committed to nurturing our Team Singapore athletes, of all abilities, to reach their full potential.
Second, we do not discriminate between able-bodied athlete and para-athlete. The amounts of monthly payments under the spexScholarship scheme for able-bodied athletes and para-athletes are the same. The “team behind the team” of sports medicine and sports science specialists, psychologists and trainers under SportSG support these two groups of athletes the same.
Third, the support provided to Team Singapore athletes is customised according to the requirements of the sport and the differing needs of the individual athlete. Sports like equestrian, rowing or shooting may require more funding to support the transport of equipment for overseas competitions, like horses, boats and rifles. Some para-athletes may need to be accompanied by a care-giver constantly. In preparation for Rio 2016, we provided more funding for our Paralympians than their Olympics counterparts in some cases.
When Team Singapore athletes of all abilities go into the sporting arena, flying our flag high, they need our full support. The Government is fully behind our athletes, and we encourage corporates and the public to also lend their support, so that we can best cheer them on together as One Team Singapore.
Mdm Speaker: Just a clarification, Minister. Are you taking Question Nos 4 and 5 together or just Question No 3?
Ms Grace Fu Hai Yien: With your indulgence, the three Questions together.
Mdm Speaker: Okay. Assoc Prof Daniel Goh.
Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong (Non-Constituency Member): I thank the Minister. The Government said that it requested the Council to review the awards scheme. May I know what is the Government's view is being communicated to the Councils in terms of the review, what are the terms of the review, have the Singapore National Olympic Council and the Singapore National Paralympic Council responded to the request, and what is the timeline for the review?
Ms Grace Fu Hai Yien: As I have said earlier on, these two awards are actually handled by two of these NGOs separately. These two NGOs will have their own agenda and timeline, and I am sure they will take this review quite seriously. But, more importantly is that they need to have conversations with the donors and supporters because both organisations may have different needs and objectives. I think it is best to leave them to look at their overall plan. SNPC has just had a new President elected. I am sure he has to find his feet and get on with his work.
Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee): Madam, I thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply, and I add my congratulations to all our sportsmen and sportswomen who have just come back from the Paralympics. I believe there is some amount of confusion among the public in terms of the amount that our Paralympians are receiving. May I ask the Minister if she could confirm that Pin Xiu would be receiving $200,000 per medal that she has got, which means that she will be receiving $400,000, rather than the $200,000 that is being bandied about online?
My second question is on sponsors for the SNPC as well as the SNOC. I believe that the Tote Board and Singapore Pools are major sponsors of both the AAA as well as the MAP. Is the value that the Tote Board providing to both these awards equivalent, and, if it is not so, would they be willing to bring this up to speed?
The Minister also mentioned the importance of a whole-of-society approach. I met with Deloitte recently and I think they are doing a wonderful job in helping many of our athletes, in terms of their future career. What plans are there in place at the Ministry level to encourage, in a more concrete manner, more of such corporations to come on board, especially local corporations?
Lastly, the Minister also mentioned the number of carded athletes. Are any of the current Paralympians also receiving scholarships?
Ms Grace Fu Hai Yien: Mdm Speaker, I thank Mr Alex Yam for the supplementary questions.
Indeed, Yip Pin Xiu will be getting $400,000 in terms of monetary award. SNPC has stated before the Games actually, that there will be an award of $200,000 per medal, and because Pin Xiu has gotten two medals, so, it will be $400,000. The scheme by SNOC, on the other hand, is different. They have a $1 million cap, regardless of the number of gold medals. So, Joseph Schooling will be receiving $1 million for his medal.
As far as sponsors are concerned – yes, Tote Board and Singapore Pools are the two main sponsors at this point in time. But if you look back at the history of these two awards, actually the two organisations have been working with several donors in the past and, for various reasons, the donors have been coming in and out of the schemes. But at this juncture, with the very tremendous achievements that our athletes have put in, both at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics and the Paralympics, we would really like to encourage the corporates to step up again to support our athletes. So, it started off really as a scheme that had multiple sponsors, all like-minded and wanting to give our athletes an encouragement and a push. So, I would urge corporates to step up again.
It is, indeed, requiring a whole-of-Singapore approach. The athletes whom we speak to are actually looking at internships and employments where companies can allow them to make a living and, at the same time, accommodate their training and competition schedule. They are also looking at accumulating experience that will serve them well as they retire from their sporting career. So, it is important for companies to also step forward to look at the values that our athletes have displayed ‒ values that are also very much treasured by companies these days – teamwork, resilience, confidence. These are really good values that will serve the companies well.
So, I hope that companies will be encouraged to follow the practice of Deloitte and other companies that have come on board our spexBusiness Network. The spexBusiness Network is one of the schemes where MCCY, through SportsSG, encourages corporates to step forward with internship and employment opportunities, and we recognise them. Annually, we will have an opportunity to thank them formally.
We also welcome companies which are prepared to offer their services to some of these Institutes of Public Character (IPCs) or National Sports Associations (NSAs). Many of the NSAs are also in need of professional services that can help them raise their level of management. And, as you know, in the last Budget, we have improved our incentive schemes for corporations, either through donations or through contributions of their services, to claim deductions for their taxes as well.
To answer Mr Alex Yam's specific questions about carding athletes and whether our para-athletes are carded, the answer is: yes. I believe we have about 120 para-athletes who are carded at the moment, and many of our Paralympians have been on full support from Spex schemes for several years. Take our boccia team, for example, Nurul has gone through two cycles, supported by us, and Sze Ning as well for the latest cycle in Rio. But, of course, I must admit that the full-time Spex Scholarships were put in place from 2013 onwards. So, it is something that we have done since 2013.
Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong: Minister, just one more simple question. Does the Government believe that the Paralympians should be equally rewarded? Thank you.
Ms Grace Fu Hai Yien: I believe I have devoted quite a significant part of my answer to that question. As far as the Government is concerned, our primary focus is to help our athletes who are driven, who are motivated, and who are courageous to have the same opportunities to step on that podium, and that support system does not discriminate between able-bodied and disabled athletes.
As I have mentioned, the stipend, the allowance, they get from us is exactly the same. It is equal. And the kind of support ‒ in terms of sports science, sports medicine, physiotherapists, psychologists, counsellors ‒ it is all the same.
So, our focus is to help as many athletes as possible in their journey onto the podium. And what is after the podium is for every one of us to put in our share to stand behind them and to cheer them on.