NMP Dr Ben Tan Warns of 10 Worrying Trends in Singapore’s Sports Culture

CHARLES LEE | 28th Jan 2015 | NEWS

At a Parliamentary Sitting on 19 January 2015, Nominated Member of Parliament Dr Ben Tan delivered a speech which highlighted 10 worrying trends in Singapore’s sports culture.  The non-redacted version of the speech is published on the redsports.sg website with Dr Tan’s permission.  For the benefit of our readers, we have summarised Dr Tan’s 10 worrying trends.  

(1)  Singaporeans are not exercising enough

Dr Tan highlighted that a National Sports Participation Survey in 2011 revealed that only 42% of Singaporeans exercised at least once a week.  This was 8% down from 50% in an earlier 2005 survey.  Participation levels dropped 16%, to 68% amongst Singaporeans below the age of 60.  Participation levels fell the most for blue-collared workers (compared to Professionals, Managers, Executives and Businessmen).

(2)  Many of the young do not enjoy sports

Dr Tan observed that many of his young local patients gave him a cynical look when asked if they look forward to their school’s Sports Day.  When asked the same question, an international student told Dr Tan how much she and her schoolmates love their school’s Sports Day.  With distinctly-different mindsets between local and international students, Dr Tan stressed that exercising habits need to be cultivated from a young age for such habits to naturally continue into adulthood.  He suggested the need to review the approach that is taken to promote physical activity across the various ages of Singaporeans.

(3)  The motivation for being physically active is questionable

Dr Tan raised a controversial issue as to whether participating in sports is a part of our culture or simply a means of obtaining certain recognition for academic or national service purposes.  Dr Tan was delighted to note that the Ministry of Education has replaced the term “Extra-Curriculum Activity” (ECA) with the term “Co-Curriculum Activity” (CCA) to emphasise the integral role of CCAs in shaping the development of an individual, and not as a point-scoring tool.  He pressed for parents to similarly adopt the right mentality when it comes to the selecting of CCAs for their children. 

(4)  There are inadequate opportunities to learn sports

Dr Tan observed that sports programs are aplenty in international schools and they are “categorised” into various levels to fit participants of varying competencies.  Citing an example in which an international school student (with an interest in basketball but has no foundation in the sport) enrolled in his school’s novice team and subsequently progressed to another team as he got better, Dr Tan stressed that local schools need to be receptive to new entrants who are keen to take on sports that they are interested in.  Supporting his proposition, Dr Tan quoted national sailors Stanley Tan and Stanley Chan who made successes in their sailing careers despite being introduced to sailing at a much later stage in their junior college days.

(5)  Local schools may be too focused on winning medals

Dr Tan cited an article from the 14 December 2014 issue of The Sunday Times in which a veteran football coach was quoted as follows: My principal said the football team will be scrapped if we don’t reach the nationals tournament.”  Dr Tan expressed concerns that local schools may be too focused on winning at the expense of general sports participation.

(6)  Singapore are struggling with their fitness levels

Dr Tan noted from 2 polytechnic lecturers that an estimated 60% to 70% of students in their respective polytechnics failed the National Physical Fitness Award.  With many NSmen struggling to pass the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT), Dr Tan added that there may be no better results had the Ministry of Defence not tweaked the format of the IPPT and increased the flexibility of the IPPT Prepatory Training.

(7)  Reduced fitness levels in turn lead to increased obesity rates and a heavier burden of chronic diseases

Dr Tan cited a statistics which revealed that obesity amongst Singaporeans increased by 3.9% to 10.8% from 2004 to 2010 while diabetes crept northwards from 8.2% to 11.3% along the same surveyed period. 

(8)  Sports events are not veteran-friendly

Dr Tan emphasised that one is never too old to engage in sports.  He highlighted that there is ample medical evidence that an individual will get to benefit from exercising even if he or she is a late entrant to exercising.  The key is to get the older generation to come out to exercise.  Citing marathons as examples that sports events are not veteran friendly, Dr Tan observed that many older participants are discouraged from taking part in such events because most of such events offer only one age category (i.e. the above-40 masters). The older runners may not have the incentive to participate as they know that they have a lower competitive edge when compared to the younger runners in the same category.    

(9)  The physically challenged are still facing significant barriers to sports participation 

Dr Tan expressed that sports provide an avenue of hope and society-integration to the disabled.  While disabled sportsmen like Desmond Tong and Jason Chee give their all by training hard for the next ASEAN Para Games, funding remains as the main obstacle to the physically-challenged.  He noted that the the majority of the funds are used for transportation. 

(10)  The struggle for recreational space, especially for sports, is escalating

Dr Tan noted that recreational space for sports is limited in land-scarce Singapore.  This more so because of safety / regulatory concerns raised by agencies and the need to foot compliance costs to organise certain sports events.  Offering the example of the Sydney Hobart Race along the busy shipping lanes of Sydney Harbour, amongst others, Dr Tan  proposed that shared spaces can be optimized for sports if we “push the boundaries and take a leaf from others”.