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This is the fifth of 12 primers on various current affairs issues, which will be published in the
run-up to The Straits Times-Ministry of Education National Current Affairs Quiz.

Is a career as a full-time athlete feasible?
home more than $700,000 in tour-
nament earnings in 2010.
But athletes in sports like gym-
nastics and swimming do not
have such opportunities to earn
regular incomes. Instead, their on-
ly “earnings” in sport come from
By MAY CHEN the Singapore National Olympic
Council’s Multi-million Dollar
Award Programme (MAP).

S A sporting nation, Sponsored by the Tote Board
Singapore has made and Singapore Pools, it gives med-
considerable strides in allists at major Games cash prizes,
the past decade. ranging from $10,000 for an indi-
Despite its small vidual SEA Games gold to $1 mil-
population of about five million, lion for top honours at the Olym-
the Republic has managed to pro- pics.
duce world-beaters and regional Gymnast Lim Heem Wei, for ex-
champions across a variety of ample, was rewarded with
sports. $40,000 when she won Singa-
Sailors alone have accounted pore’s first gymnastics silver at
for at least 19 world titles since the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
2004. Other sports, such as bowl- There are, of course, schemes
ing and shooting, have also pro- put in place by the SSC to support
duced winners on the global athletes financially. These include
stage. the Sports Excellence (Spex) train-
The nation’s sporting triumphs ing assistance grant, the Athletes
peaked at the Beijing Olympics in Career and Training programme
2008, when Feng Tianwei and Co (ACT) and the Spex grant for loss
clinched a table tennis team silver of wages (Glow).
to end Singapore’s 48-year medal Under these schemes, a top
drought at the Games. carded athlete can receive up to
The same team then toppled $7,200 a year in training assist-
powerhouse China in the final of ance grants, as well as up to
the World Team Championships $50,000 a year under the ACT.
in Moscow two years later. Should an athlete take time off
Yet, one aspect of Singapore work to train in preparation for a
sport is largely unchanged: The sporting event, he or she also qual-
vast majority of local athletes re- ifies for up to $2,000 a month (up
main amateurs, with few willing to $12,000 a year) in compensa-
to commit to a full-time career. tion for the loss of salary under
Out of some 1,000 athletes spexGlow.
carded by the Singapore Sports But it is unrealistic for athletes
Council (SSC) yearly, only a hand- to rely only on bonuses such as
ful are full-time sportsmen. The the MAP awards, since these
bulk are students and working events are not held yearly. The
adults who split their time be- SEA Games are biennial, whereas
tween studies or work, and train- the other three – the Asian
ing. Games, the Commonwealth
This, despite the slew of initia- Games and the Olympics – are
tives that the Government has in- quadrennial. Athletes are now bolder in taking the road less travelled. Gymnast Lim Heem Wei (above) dropped modules in university to better focus on training. ST FILE PHOTO
troduced over 20 years – the most Furthermore, the majority of
recent being the revised High athletes do not fall into the select
Performance Sports (HPS) system group of elites who excel on the in- pore partnered SingaporeBowling Calvin Kang, 22, deferring their
– in a bid to encourage more ath- ternational stage. They therefore to provide internship and job op- studies.
letes to consider sport as a get a smaller share when it is time portunities for both current and The Singapore Tennis Associa-
full-time career. to divide the pie. former national bowlers. tion’s pioneer full-time pro-
But why are so few willing to Unlike their counterparts in Athletes today are more willing gramme for juniors started with
take a leap of faith? countries like the United States, to contemplate a full-time career, four players last year, and added
Money is arguably the most sig- Singapore athletes also do not even though they still maintain three more to its stable this year.
nificant factor. have the luxury of earning lots the same concerns about their fu- They are aged from 13 to 16.
Too often, many national from personal endorsement deals. tures and livelihoods. The introduction of the HPS
sports associations, which are America’s all-around cham- It is partly a result of greater scheme by the Ministry of Cul-
funded by the SSC, find them- pion gymnast Gabby Douglas, for ABOUT THE BIG QUIZ overall holistic support – even in ture, Community and Youth has
selves incapable of offering their instance, is estimated to pull in L Co-organisers: The Straits Times and the Ministry of Education areas such as sports science, nutri- also been touted as a potential
biggest talents an attractive between US$1 million (S$1.2 mil- L Presenting sponsor: Singapore Press Holdings Foundation tion and sports medicine. game-changer.
enough salary in exchange for lion) and US$3 million a year in en- L Innovation partner: Shell With examples of success sto- Under it, scholarships worth
their total commitment. dorsements leading up to the 2016 L The run-up to The Big Quiz comprises: ries before them, athletes are now $40 million over five years will be
Major sports such as netball, Rio Olympics. 1. A series of 12 primers on current affairs topics also bolder in taking the road less offered to about 60 athletes from
football and shooting have typical- Athletes also know their ca- 2. Talks given by editors and correspondents of travelled. this year, giving them more com-
ly been placed on the highest tiers reers have a limited lifespan and The Straits Times Last year, sailors Colin Cheng prehensive support in the form of
of funding and have traditionally can be cut short by injury at any 3. A sponsored segment on students’ say to set questions and Elizabeth Yin and shooter Jas- stipends, on top of covering the
received more than $1.5 million in time. Most want something more mine Ser all deferred their studies costs of coaching, equipment and
grants annually. stable for the long term. If they THE BIG QUIZ CONTEST to train overseas before the Lon- competitions.
But with the bulk of this are adults, that means a job. If the Four quiz rounds in which teams from participating schools will don Games, even when their tick- But as then Prime Minister Goh
amount going to paying staff sala- athletes are still young, they, or vie for the top prize: a championship trophy and $5,000 cash ets to the Olympics had not been Chok Tong said when he launched
ries, coaching fees and running their parents, are likely to plump L Open to: First-year pre-university students and Year 5 assured. Gymnast Lim dropped the ACT initiative in 2002: “The
tournaments and community pro- for the paper chase over the pros- Integrated Programme students from 24 participating schools modules in university to better fo- Government alone cannot trans-
grammes, there is usually hardly pect of sporting glory. cus on training. form Singapore into a sporting na-
any surplus to go around. But for all these hurdles, the For more information, go to This year, the national men’s tion.”
Those in sports such as badmin- tide is turning – slowly but sure- 4x100m relay team has been train- Indeed. A vibrant sporting
ton, golf and table tennis are more ly. The SSC piloted the Pro- ing full-time since January in pur- scene, where athletes plunge unre-
fortunate because they can gramme for Elite Athletes’ Career suit of a starting berth at the servedly into sport, is not one
compete in professional tourna- in 2006, a scheme designed to Swimmer Sng Ju Wei and bow- While these examples remain World Championships in Athlet- that can be built overnight.
ments around the world and are pair top athletes with companies ler Rena Teng, for instance, were the minority and most corpora- ics in August and a gold at Decem- It will take time, as well as am-
able to supplement their income where they can enjoy a flexible linked up with Standard Char- tions in Singapore have yet to ber’s SEA Games. ple support from stakeholders
through prize money if they do work environment, allowing them tered Bank. warm to the idea of supporting It involved Singapore Manage- such as parents, sports administra-
well. to continue their elite sports train- The scheme has since evolved athletes in this regard, more are ment University’s Gary Yeo, 26, tors, corporate sponsors and em-
Singapore’s No. 1 golfer ing and participation in competi- into the Athlete Friendly Work- jumping on the bandwagon. and Nanyang Technological Uni- ployers.
Mardan Mamat, for instance, took tions. place Scheme. More recently, Canon Singa- versity’s Lee Cheng Wei, 26, and

At the 1990 Beijing

A brief history of Asian Games,
Singapore’s 131
athletes took home
Sports Excellence one silver and
four bronzes.

programmes By the 2010
Guangzhou edition,
Team Singapore’s

PORTS excellence, while money or studies. The goal: Asian 240 athletes had
not a foreign idea, is one Games and Olympic success.
that is still relatively Funds were injected into just bagged four golds,
new to Singapore. seven Core sports: athletics, bad- seven silvers and
The Republic began minton, bowling, football, swim-
focusing on elite sports only ming and water polo, sailing and six bronzes.
about 20 years ago, when the Gov- table tennis.
ernment pledged more funds to Almost a decade later in 2002,
back the quest for medals. the Athletes Career and Training
Until then, Singapore’s more programme was launched. It was athletes across four sports.
notable sporting achievements targeted at providing a viable safe- The shift of focus to sports ex-
were limited to weightlifter Tan ty net for athletes through assist- cellence has played a considerable
Howe Liang’s Olympic silver in ance in education and jobs after role in Singapore sport’s gold
1960 and swimmer Ang Peng sports. rush.
Siong’s gold at the 1982 Asian Sprinter U.K. Shyam was the At the 1990 Beijing Asian
Games. first beneficiary, receiving up to Games, Singapore’s 131-strong
Sports Excellence 2000 – or $35,000 in grants a year. contingent took home one silver
Sprinter U.K. Shyam was the first beneficiary of the Athletes Career and Training programme. The scheme, still a part of
Spex 2000 – was launched in The scheme, still a part of the and four bronzes.
the Singapore Sports Council’s support programme today, aids about 50 athletes each year. ST FILE PHOTO
1993. Singapore Sports Council’s sup- By the 2010 Guangzhou edi-
The $10 million blueprint was port programme today, aids about tion, Team Singapore’s 240 ath-
aimed at helping Singapore 50 athletes each year. 0812, which evolved into the Both programmes promised the Games. The Olympic Pathway letes had bagged four golds, seven
athletes train and compete with- The search for Olympic glory Olympic Pathway Programme in millions for athletes who had the Programme, for instance, poured silvers and six bronzes.
out being unduly distracted by came later in the form of Project 2009. potential to reach the podium at its $6.5 million war chest into 11 MAY CHEN