Playing football on Sports Hub field like running on the beach

From ‘Inaugural football game at Sports Hub a letdown’, 19 Aug 2014, Voices, Today

(Mohamad Farid Harunal Rashid): I watched the game between the Singapore Selection and Juventus at the Sports Hub on Aug 16, and was disappointed on several levels. First, while the National Stadium’s physical structure was impressive, the pitch was below par.

It was sandy, with many barren patches, not at all like the state-of-the-art turf mentioned in reports. Indeed, Juventus rested one of their star players, Carlos Tevez, reportedly due to concerns about the safety of the pitch.

The game itself was lacklustre and pedestrian. Notwithstanding that it was a friendly at the end of a long and busy post-season in a World Cup year, the quality of football was below expectations.

Ex-national player Nasri Nasir described his experience playing Juventus as ‘running on a beach’ (Sports Hub field far from pitch-perfect, 19 Aug 2014, ST). With all the patches of sand on the crowning centrepiece of our new Sports Hub, maybe it was a tad ambitious challenging the Italian Serie A champion on its first run. We could have started with a celebrity model bikini beach volleyball charity extravaganza instead. Then no one would be complaining about uninspiring attacks, balding pitches or miniature sandstorms being kicked up all over the place.

The ‘state-of-the-art’ field in the Sports Hub is the Desso Grassmaster, dubbed as the pitch of the 21st century. It boasts ‘good traction’ and ‘modifiable levels of hardness and ball bounce’ all thanks to its 3% artificial fibre meshed with 97% natural grass. Installed in global arenas like Wembley and Emirates stadium, the Grassmaster is undoubtedly the field of champions, able to withstand the harshest, most unpredictable weather and the most violent of rugby scrums. You’re not just running around on a grassy field, but a SYSTEM engineered to bring out the best in athletic performance. Unfortunately the Singapore version also happens to be too dangerous to play Carlos Tevez on. You came all the way to Singapore for nothing, Tevez. Nothing at all.

Spending $800K on reinforced grass alone is nothing more than a mere vanity project if you don’t have internationally recognised National teams making it its home turf. The only thing more wasteful is building a massive indoor snow landscape as a Winter Olympics training facility. That amount of money could have went into school sports development programmes, maybe more swimming pools or badminton courts for the public, but instead we blow it a technological showcase which not only has to accommodate rugby players, but stampedes of Jay Chou fans come November. To purists who still gush over Malaysia Cup nostalgia, no amount of grass science can bring back the glory days of the Kallang Wave.

In the 80’s we experimented with the artificial football field known as ‘Astroturf’, which sounds like what the Jetsons play Astro-Golf on. Heralded as the ‘future of football in Singapore’ in 2004, it was supposed to optimise training rain-or-shine. A decade has passed since and the only thing ‘space-age’ about the state of football today is that it is still in deep LIMBO. Let’s hope the Grassmaster holds out in this crazy weather and not turn into a hybrid beach instead of the perfect luxurious pitch as promised. Otherwise, there may be other avenues which we may want to consider in our pursuit of sporting excellence. Like, I dunno, chariot racing or something.

About these ads

World Cup Public Holiday hoax reported to Police

From ‘President Tony Tan did not declare July 14 a public holiday: Istana’, 14 July 2014, article in Today

The authorities have clarified that the President’s Office did not issue any letter declaring today (July 14) a public holiday. According to a statement issued by the President’s Office, a “letter circulating on mobile and online platforms in the name of President Tony Tan Keng Yam” had declared July 14 a public holiday.

The President’s Office reiterated that it had issued no such letter, adding that public holidays are announced by the Ministry of Manpower. According to the hoax letter, the holiday was meant to allow all Singaporeans to have a chance to watch the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina, and had the approval of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Government offices would be closed today, the letter claimed.

A police report has been lodged and  investigations are ongoing, police said.

Last year, MP Irene Ng was impersonated by someone posting a fake haze article on The Real Singapore website using a bogus email account. A police report was lodged but I’m not sure if the culprit was ever caught. In the President’s case, not only do you have a potential impersonation charge, but another on ‘false transmission of information’.

The letter is unlikely to cause a premature rapture followed by mass absenteeism in offices since we would typically trust the mainstream media to feed us such vital info. Also if this were genuine, the President wouldn’t have announced the good news only during the FINALS. I doubt the prankster had any malicious intentions, and no one would be dumb enough to take the letter seriously. After all, this ‘Tony Tan’ isn’t declaring war on a neighbouring country, or freaking us out by saying there is a giant asteroid on a collision-course with the planet like what more illustrious presidents do in cosmic disaster movies, so the Police shouldn’t worry about widespread panic or looting on the streets.

There was never a time when a World Cup holiday, or even half-day, was granted in Singapore, not least because we were never in the tournament and therefore have no reason to celebrate as a nation. But that didn’t stop people from urging the government to declare public holidays for other less spectacular occasions, to no avail of course.

1. Former President S R Nathan’s Inauguration Day

2. Hindu and Sikh New Year’s Day (April 13)

3. Lao Zi’s Birthday (Taoist Day)

4. Raffles/Founder’s Day, Lim Bo Seng’s Day, Multi-Racial Day

5. An additional day off for our 25th National Day. We can try asking for this again next year for our 50th.

6. Confucius’ birthday

And here are some facts you never knew about our public holidays.

1. Thaipusam used to be a public holiday.

2. We used to have BANK holidays. THREE in 1960 alone. These were subsequently abolished in 1966.

3. Vesak Day used to be called WESAK Day.

4. Dr Sun Yat-Sen’s birthday, Nov 12,  used to be a public holiday.

5. Before 1968 we had 16 PHs. Today we have 10.

If there’s one thing this hoax taught us though, it’s that there’s actually one LESS thing that our president can do. Now, MOM, how about bringing back a bank holiday or two, then?

Parents sending kids for ‘sports tuition’

From ‘Sports tuition a growth field’, 13 May 2014, article by Adelene Wong, Today

…Introduced in 2004, the DSA (Direct Schools Admission) scheme provides an alternative avenue for P6 students to gain admission into secondary schools. Under this scheme, participating schools have flexibility to admit students on the basis of their sporting abilities. As a result, an increasing number of primary school students are taking up private coaching in the bid to be better in their sport.

…Schools administrators and sports coaches TODAY spoke to are already warning that this growing trend to take on an extra sports load is becoming a cause of concern and can work to the disadvantage of the student-athletes.

Said Nanyang Primary School athletics coach Lim Chee Min: “The primary schools’ sports scene is not just about kids enjoying their sports anymore … It has evolved into a pressure-cooker situation for some of them. Higher likelihood of injuries and the dulling of a child’s interest in the sport are just some examples I have noticed with students who can be overwhelmed by the amount of training they received.

The DSA may seem like an automatic ‘Wild Card’ selection for kids whose talents lie in sports rather than in their studies, with the intention of expanding the scope of student excellence beyond rote learning for the PSLE. From the Ministry’s perspective it’s a way of pushing for ‘holistic education’, but for years it has appeared to the rest of us that the odds are in favour of those who’re willing to pump in money to improve their child’s chances of success with tuition, for PSLE subjects or otherwise, so much so that they hardly get to see him at all.

As if staying back for CCAs isn’t enough, now there’s supplementary coaching for the very same CCAs that deprive your child from experiencing the rest of the world, a world where you don’t have to be the BEST at everything you do, a world where your worth is determined by your aptitude, compassion and integrity, and not whether you’ve won at least 4 medals over the past 2 years. The worst that could happen is if the kid starts to resent not just the sport that he’s grilled in, but loses his general interest in SCHOOL. Period.

But even with the most severe all-week long specialised coaching with companies like Fabian Williams Coaching Concepts, you still may not get into the school of your choice, because no one controls how schools select their candidates. The criteria for DSA set by some schools are ridiculously stringent, like how a Roman emperor selects a gladiator to be his champion in the arena for the fight to the death. Clearly, your achievements and past years’ report card matter far more than your character, something which the Ministry is gradually losing sight of. I mean, so what if you manage to snare the best high jumper in the nation and win some awards along the way. The kid’s just as likely to end up in a deadbeat office job with a mediocre CV, never doing any backward flipping for the rest of his life. His legacy with the school is a mere plaque on the shelf, a feather in the cap, and that prestige is all that matters.

Here’s a sample of DSA criteria:

Hwa Chong
TWO ROUNDS of DSA. For sports, you’ll have to go through interviews and sports trials, as well as submit your competition results. Good chances for those involved in Wushu, Judo and Squash among a list of others.

Dunman High
Represented school at Zonal or National Level for Softball (girls only), Volleyball, Air Rifle (for girls only). Good results for P5 and p6 Mid-year exams. Talent in Chinese orchestra (including GUZHENG).

SJI
Hockey, sailing, rugby among others. Advantage if you’re a quarter finalist in National Age-Group Individual Championship.

Such schools are not looking for ‘well-rounded’ individuals, they are drafting for their own championship teams. You could be the best baton twirler in your cohort but fail to get into a top school because they don’t have a marching band. There was a time when your fellow Wushu Club members were friends. With the DSA implementation, they’re your goddamn RIVALS.

This is why we’ve never had a reputation for producing creative geniuses. The PSLE, in spite of all the Government’s attempts at downplaying it recently, has either turned us into a tuition-obsessed nation, or physical specimens moulded and coached into performing well at only ONE SPORT. A one-trick pony machine who can sprint like hell but can’t catch a frisbee. Thanks to this overemphasis on CCAs, the line between school and ‘play’ has been blurred.  The DSA-chase also raises the spectre of some extreme scenarios, kids getting early permanent injuries from overdoing their training, kids treating the P5 and P6 Mid-year exams as if they were the PSLE itself hence getting stressed out earlier, or most outrageous of all, doping themselves with performance-enhancers before their DSA trials, like how some take Ritalin for their studies. Maybe Brands Essence of Chicken will capitalise on this and claim benefits in stamina-building in addition to being a brain tonic.

Unless your kid is exactly like the protagonist from Diary of a Wimpy Kid, you can’t go wrong nudging him into Track and Field, which has the widest range of events for him to excel in. Good luck if he insists on joining the Gardening Club, or God forbid, become a LIBRARIAN. How ironic and sad that someone who the most exposure to books in all his primary school years loses out in the DSA to another who happens to be the Eric Clapton of the Guzheng.

Foreign workers rioting over cricket match

From ’17 charged after fight at Kaki Bukit’, 28 March 2014, article in CNA

17 foreign workers were charged in court on Friday following a brawl that broke out at a dormitory in Kaki Bukit. 14 of them are from Bangladesh and were charged with rioting. The other three from India were charged with affray for their alleged roles in the fight.

Their cases will be mentioned again next month. They were among 35 workers arrested following Tuesday evening’s fight, which allegedly took place during a live screening of a T-20 cricket match.

The match was between Bangladesh and the West Indies, in which the West Indies won.

I probably know a bit more about golf than cricket, but I never heard of anyone throwing furniture over the former. Like any spectator team sport, cricket has its fair share of violent hooliganism. In 2006, Indian fans unhappy with match cancellation set bonfires and burned advertising billboards, injuring a few policemen in the pandemonium. 10 years before that in 1996 at the World Cup semi-final between India and Sri Lanka in Eden Gardens, Kolkata, the game was awarded to the visitors after things turned ugly and the riot police had to be deployed to quell an Indian mob angry that their side were on the losing end. You’d never think a sport with a lengthy glossary of confusing terms (Boot Hill, Cart-wheeling stump, Left-arm Unorthodox Spin among others), suggesting some quiet civility about it,  would have some of the worst ever sore losers in the history of sporting competition.

A wicket crowd

A wicket crowd

Emotions run high easily in crowded dorms. In 2001, an Indian national was fatally stabbed with a kitchen knife by a housemate because he spent too much time in the TOILET every morning. So when is a brawl a riot and when is it an affray? According to our statutes, an affray is ‘where 2 or more persons disturb the public peace by fighting in a PUBLIC place’. ‘Rioting’ occurs ‘whenever force or violence is used by an unlawful assembly or by any member thereof, in prosecution of the ‘common object’ of such assembly’, unlawful assembly meaning FIVE or more persons engaging in a ‘common object’ of wrongdoing. If you decide to throw punches with someone on the MRT, you are committing affray. If you’re part of a gang and slash people over staring incidents, then you’re ‘rioting with a dangerous weapon’.

Both terms appear to be have been used interchangeably in the past. In 1939, 17 Chinese and Indian workers got into a ‘disturbance’ at Alexandra Brickworks, resulting in several injuries and a broken arm, an incident reported as an ‘affray’. The way similar battles were described suggests that an ‘affray’ was considered a milder version, or precursor, of a riot, like a poke in the chest escalating into a kick to the face. Which doesn’t explain how in a group of 17 men involved in a free-for-all over the same thing, a few can be engaged in affray while the rest were rioting.

You may, however, avoid a rioting charge if you get into a fistfight while IN a football (or cricket for that matter) match, as long as nobody makes a police report. Being involved in a catfight also may spare you from affray charges, though people are more likely to stand and watch than try to break it apart for the entertainment. Or if you’re a Taiwanese politician.

No fighting in the war room

But if you’re really lucky, you could get involved in what’s technically an affray right outside the Subordinate Courts and nothing would happen to you, like this trio below. It’s 2 participants short of a riot, mind you.

Fight club

Then there’s the question of whether a dormitory may be considered a ‘public place’. If a husband and wife got into a massive quarrel in the wee hours that involves the tossing of hot kettles and frying pans in the kitchen and the whole neighbourhood knows about it, what charge does it come under? If 5 relatives started body slamming each other in their backyard over inheritance, are they RIOTING? Is there a penalty for, well, just ‘FIGHTING’ wherever you are? After all, you never know when a scuffle may lead to serious harm or death, in the privacy of a bedroom or on the rooftop of a building, with or without ‘dangerous weapons’.

Ironically, free-to-air live cricket matches was one of the suggestions following the Little India riot to keep our workers ‘happy and motivated’. Perhaps Bollywood movies would be a better idea.

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 11.42.57 PM

 

 

Singtel charging $105 to watch World Cup

From ‘Breaking the bank to watch the World Cup on TV’, 14 March 2014, article by Chua Siang Yee and Terence Ong, ST

SINGAPORE will be one of the most expensive places in the world to watch football’s World Cup in June.

Pay-TV operator SingTel announced on Wednesday that it will cost $105, excluding goods and services tax, to catch all 64 matches of the month-long tournament.

This is more than double what fans in Malaysia have to pay and more than five times the price in Hong Kong.

The number of matches being offered on free-to-air TV here also pales in comparison to those in other countries. Only four matches – the Brazil World Cup’s opening game, its two semi-finals and final – are set to be screened on terrestrial channels. In contrast, Britain, China, Australia and Cambodia are just some of the countries showing all 64 matches free.

In the last World Cup 2010, Singtel’s chief of content and media services Edward Ying remarked that at $66 (before GST then), subscribers would be paying about $1 a game to watch in the comfort of their homes, equivalent to less than a CUP OF COFFEE. That’s provided that you actually get to watch EVERY live match, which makes you a soccer bum, or the kind of fanatic who accumulates years of leave just to splurge them all on the biggest sporting event of the year. Just 12 years ago, you could get your World Cup Fix at a lowly $25 (SCV), which works out to be about the price of ONE 3-D IMAX movie ticket on a weekend these days.

This year, the price per match is about $1.60, or roughly the adult train fare from Ang Mo Kio to Bedok ($1.69), which means the money you save from boycotting the World Cup entirely can give you 32 return trips from the North to the East. What more can you expect from a country recently rated as the most expensive city in the world? But I suppose only cheese-eating expats are rich, or foolish, enough to sign up for the package without complaining, while Singaporeans will probably never see their home country take the stage in their lifetime, make the most noise about extortion, yet still end up grudgingly paying more than anyone else in the world to support other nationalities’ teams.

If you’re resourceful enough, you could still try to find some places to watch the World Cup for FREE, secret spots where one could tap World Cup transmissions like one establishing contact with extraterrestrials through an inter-dimensional portal. Bishan HDB residents, for example, were able to mooch off Indonesian channel RCTI during the last Cup using nothing more than a $6.50 coaxial cable. So good news if you have friends staying there, though the fact that Bishan used to be a burial ground may explain the presence of offshore signals, a spooky, though fortuitous, breach in the ether. The World Cup is also probably the only time when Singaporeans all begin fiddling with antennas and the tuner function on their TVs, or remember there’s such a channel known as RTM1.

If you’re willing to pay the higher alcohol tax, you could pop by a kopitiam and chug a Tiger while supporting your favourite team.  In 2006, some Geylang coffeshops were able to tap into SCTV signals, while others who subscribed to pay TV providers had to fork out at least $600-1000 for alfresco viewing.  McDonald’s also cashed in on World Cup Fever previously, with their free broadcasts in 2010 ringing in customers dining at their 24 hour outlets.  Probably cheaper than beer, but if you’re hanging out at Macs everyday to watch all 64 matches over supper, you probably wouldn’t live long enough to catch the Grand Final.

Forget about going Hong Lim Park to protest about the ridiculous prices. The best way to stick it to profiteering cable providers is to share your tips on how, or where, to watch the World Cup without having to pay a single goddamn cent. Open up your house to friends or strangers, gather a group of fans at the nearest CC, shout profanities together with the uncles at the kopitiam, just like what the World Cup spirit is supposed to be, bringing people of all walks together, not mass pillaging our wallets.

 

Teenage students dying during PE lessons

From ’13 year old student dies after PE lesson, second case this week’, 16 Jan 2014, article by Pearl Lee, ST

A 13-year-old student from Temasek Junior College died on Wednesday during a physical education (PE) lesson, after he reportedly had an asthma attack. A relative of the boy, who is an Integrated Programme student, told Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao that the student had informed the PE teacher that he felt unwell. He collapsed right after that.

Police have classified the case as an unnatural death and are investigating. This is the second such case this week. On Monday, a 16-year-old student from Tanglin Secondary died after jogging during a PE lesson.

According to the Chinese papers, the boy fainted while doing WARM UP EXERCISES, dying shortly after while in hospital. In 1988, 19 year old Ong Kok Kheng also died after doing warm up exercises. 3 years later, 15 year old Aw Wei Yong collapsed and died after walking 2 rounds around a basketball court as part of team ‘warm up’. Though both the latter victims had a ‘heart condition’, we usually think of ‘warming up’ as an activity to PREVENT injury rather than one that could actually kill you. If you think about the evolution of human running, the act of warming up comes across as totally unnatural preparation for any form of rapid locomotion. Most physically daunting activities that we perform on a daily basis are often bursts of adrenaline-fuelled spontaneity and don’t require any form of ‘warm-up’ whatsoever.  Dashing after a bus, dancing, quickie sex. The worst that could happen was getting a stitch. Not stitched up in a coffin.

If doing embarrassing hip rotation exercises could slay you, imagine what track equipment could do to your mortal flesh. In 1991, a JC student died a gruesome death after impaling himself on a JAVELIN. He was playing with HULA HOOPS when the freak tragedy happened. When I was in JC, we were made to handle ‘medicine balls’, dusty heavy weapons of mass destruction that could cause sink holes on the road if you dropped them from a sufficient height. Sometimes it’s the PE teacher herself attacking you for not showing enough enthusiasm, and all you have to defend yourself with is a beanbag or a plastic cone. PE lessons aren’t just hazardous to some kids, but to PE teachers as well. You may get knocked into a coma by a stray shot put ball, or beaten silly with a piece of wood by a kid unwilling to walk around the field as punishment.

We used to be a tough lot. As early as 1939 schoolchildren were forced to do rhythmic exercises for developing ‘suppleness’. Some of these gymnastic shenanigans were more military-grade than the wussy stuff they dish out in army now. Those days if I didn’t want to study I could at least have become a travelling acrobat, with a body drilled into supple perfection.

Hangin tough

Hangin tough

When one too many army boys die for nothing, SAF puts a stop to outdoor training. If you have kids collapsing during school hours when PE is supposed to be the most fun part of your entire education, perhaps the Ministry should look into putting classes on hold as well and devote the time to catching up on homework instead. Much to the delight of kiasu parents of course.

National Stadium should be named after Lee Kuan Yew

From various letters, 16 Nov 2013, ST Forum

(Kong Peng Sun):…Had it not been for one of our founding fathers, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, we would not have our nation and stadium today. He has sacrificed a lot for this country, leading it to be so successful economically and able to stand tall even among the developed and advanced countries. There is no bigger way to honour Mr Lee than to name our stadium after him.

(David Tan Kok Kheng):…When the original National Stadium was officially opened in 1973 by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, it was seen not only as a move towards a more sporting nation but also a step forward in nation building.  If there is one single personality who comes to mind when we think about the building of this nation, be it economically, socially, in education or even sports, it is Mr Lee.

(Lim Teck Meng):…The Grandstand (West) could be the Choo Seng Quee Grandstand, after our most successful mastermind who created our super team and started our unique Kallang Roar.

The Main Gallery Stand (East) could be named after our most famous footballing son, Fandi Ahmad. Till today, there is no footballer like him who has given fans lots of memories with his fantastic performances.

The Northern Stand could be dubbed the Majid Ariff Stand, after “Mr Twinkle Toes” who is our only footballer to have made it to the Asian All-Stars team.

The Southern Stand could be the Dollah-Kim Song Stand, after Dollah Kassim and Quah Kim Song for the moment that epitomised the Kallang Roar days: In extra time of the 1977 Malaysia Cup Final, Dollah crossed to Quah to score, allowing Singapore to beat Penang and bring back the Malaysia Cup after a long hiatus.

Our ex-premier has been named after many prestigious awards, the World City Prize included, but has yet to even have a street, or MRT station named after him. Some have called for a capital in Singapore to be named ‘Leekuanyew City‘, among other viable proposals such as a hospital and even our beloved Changi airport. A public amenity like a spanking new stadium shouldn’t have any issues with branding if you decide to name it after an important person instead of sticking to sentimental, marketable monikers like the ‘Grand Old Dame’ or ‘Kallang Stadium’. One may argue, however, if honouring a powerhouse politician over sporting legend is taking the piss on local sports. You also risk having critics of nonagenarian ministers mocking the stadium as the ‘Grand Old FART’ instead.

Naming parts of the new stadium after famous footballers sounds like a decent idea if we can’t decide on anyone ‘big’ enough to fit the bill, except that the National Stadium, or Singapore, is not all about football and we might not be fair to sportsmen who actually made it to the Olympics, like Tan Howe Liang for instance. ‘Dollah-Kim Song’ also sounds more like a Korean rapper than a striking partnership. LKY aside, EW Barker has also been suggested for his contributions to sporting complexes in housing estates. But if you’re deadset on choosing a leader who spearheaded sports on an administrative level, you’re forgetting one particular person – someone who came up with the idea of having a National Stadium in the first place.

According to the SSC Sports Museum history of the National Stadium, the construction of the original National Stadium would not have been possible if not for money raised from the national lottery. Between 1968 and 1976, more than $20 million was raised. The operator was Singapore Pools, the lottery games were Toto and Singapore Sweep, and the minister who came up with the brilliant idea (inspired by the Bulgarians) of building a stadium using Singaporeans’ gambling money was none other than Othman Wok.

In 1965, Encik Wok, then Social Affairs Minister, argued for a stadium of ‘Olympic’ standards in Kallang to help put Singapore at the forefront of international sport. As the chairman of the Singapore National Olympic Council, he launched the Singapore Sports Awards in 1967 to recognise sporting excellence. Tasked with the ‘toughest job in sports’, Wok himself was a sportsman in his own right, a hockey player and rugby captain back in RI. I can’t imagine LKY indulging in any team events other than fist-shaking debating. Or even kicking a chapteh about for that matter.

In 1971, Wok introduced the National Stadium Corporation Bill in Parliament, which laid the groundwork not just for the physical stadium infrastructure but the future of Singapore sports. Fans of F1 should note that he was also an avid supporter of the Singapore Grand Prix back in 1967. Punters should be reminded that without Wok and his vision for a National Stadium, we’d have no TOTO too. The man has even met Football God PELE in person, which alone should be sufficient reason to give Wok the edge over LKY, Barker or football personalities from Fandi to supersub Steven Tan if you want to name the stadium after someone who’s done more for sport than merely give a speech on its opening day.

The Othman Wok Stadium has a nice ring to it and if I had the chance I’d vote him in. Let’s save LKY for bigger things. I hear Changi Airport’s Terminal 5 would be ready by 2020.

Wok this way

Singapore qualifying for the Poker World Cup

From ‘S’pore makes cut for poker ‘World Cup”, 3 Nov 2013, article by Caroline Khew, Sunday Times

Singapore is going to the “World Cup” in Brazil next year. The World Cup of poker, that is. Its six-man team beat four other countries to take third place in the first-ever Asian Nations Cup in Sanya, China, last month.

It meant the Republic qualified for the second International Federation of Poker World Championship in Rio de Janeiro next February. There, it will take on 15 other countries, including heavyweights the United States and China. The prize pool has yet to be revealed but last year it stood at half a million euros (S$838,000).

Singapore team manager Vince Lau, 52, told how qualification was no easy feat. The team was in the bottom two after the first day and it was only after a change of strategy that Singapore toppled the likes of Japan and India in the later sessions.

“It has been quite an experience and a challenge for us,” said Mr Lau, who is also the president of the Poker Federation of Singapore. “This was our debut match overseas against other Asian countries. Securing third spot was really quite an achievement as we are a young team.”

…Although poker here is not as popular as it is in other countries, Mr Lau said interest is growing. The Poker Federation of Singapore, for example, started with about 100 members in 2009, but its membership has grown to about 350 today. Online poker games have also been gaining traction on sites like Facebook, said Mr Lau.

The Poker Federation of Singapore aims to create awareness of poker being a game which involves using the mind rather than just one associated with gambling. “It’s a stereotype,” said Mr Lau. “Many people don’t know that poker is about skill and risk management rather than being at the mercy of cards. It’s about making the correct decisions based on calculated risks.”

When Mah Bow Tan launched his dream project Goal 2010 for Singapore football, no one believed him and till today, 3 years past schedule, we’re nowhere near target. We may even have trouble qualifying for the 2100 championships, unless by then it’s no longer humans running around kicking a ball, but robots, a department in which we may excel in. No one would expect that we would make it to World Cups and championships that have NOTHING to do with what Mah had in mind.

Just last month, a Singaporean duo won the GARDENING World Cup in Japan. You may also be granted deferment from NS for playing World championship Counterstrike, or Super Street Fighter for the country. In the realm of ball games, we qualified for the 2012 World FLOORBALL championships.  We’ve conquered the world in schools DEBATING, and are succeeding on the Asian stage in SPELLING. All of which suggests that we’re focusing on the wrong events, that Singaporeans are more adept at landscaping, nerdy mental games or poker than swimming or table tennis. We’re, after all, a Garden City with some of Asia’s brightest kids and the most emotionless i.e ‘poker-faced’ people who’ve ever lived on this planet. Look, Sports Council, no FOREIGN IMPORTS too!

Poker, however, is a game that is less likely to send you to a prestigious championship event than into a psychiatric clinic or a Maxi-Cash. Once you’re hooked and indebted, you may very well lose the equivalent of World Cup prize money ($838,000) before getting anywhere near a tournament. If you can’t afford to pay the $100 levy to hone your poker skills at the IRs, there’s always Facebook games or online casinos, poor substitutes for the real thing which requires real-time ‘risk management’ and reading other players’ expressions and gestures. If you need human faces to practice on and can’t wait until CNY, you can join any of the poker ‘meetups’ online for some ‘clean and friendly’ games. Our IRs even have dedicated ‘poker rooms’ for the pros, with a Poker Room Manager as an actual occupation. A Harvard professor uses poker to teach ‘life skills’ like ‘patience, composure and respect for ones’ foes’. Pretty handy, until you become bankrupt when the only skill you need is that of begging for your life.

Glamorising poker or gambling in general isn’t new though; Mediacorp has done sequel after sequel of ‘the Unbeatables’ to make gambling Casino Royale cool. None of the poker pros featured, however, look anything like Li Nanxing.

One Singaporean who has avoided public scrutiny for obvious reasons is trained accountant and poker king Bryan Huang, who’s like the secret Fandi Ahmad of Poker. According to the website Pokerstars, he’s one of the highest earning Singaporeans of ALL TIME. A Poker tour is also EXACTLY how I’d imagine it to be, judging from the photo below. It’s like a car-show and a James Bond movieset in one!

You can Texas Hold Em if you want

The timing for this article promoting poker as some kind of competitive sport and the ‘thinking man’s game of chance’, however, seems misplaced. Late last month, a reported 175, 680 people were placed under casino exclusion orders, a 4 fold increase from 2011 (175, 680 excluded from SIngapore’s two casinos, 27 Oct 2013, ST). We’re also seeing a rise in pawn shops and moneylenders. Pitching the game as one that is as mathematically challenging as Sudoku and you can win big money from tournaments may encourage novices to give it a shot, and not everyone would have the ability to differentiate poker ‘for fun’ or career prospect vs poker as a spiraling addiction. Even poker pros themselves admit to getting burned at the tables in their ‘training’, and it’s obvious that to be the best in the world of competitive poker, you have to lose money. It becomes a problem when you don’t lose well. It’s not like chess where all you have to lose is face.

Yes, this face

Good luck to the poker dudes, anyhow (I doubt any Minister will come forward and offer their support, right MG Chan Chun Sing?). I’m sure there’s a Poker God of Gamblers in waiting among our Maths Olympiad kids, who are blessed not only with our Singaporean emotionless face but a natural poker heuristic, who are now being offered a lucrative career option beyond drab academia or teaching statistics . A Youth Championships in the pipeline perhaps?

Joseph Schooling deferring NS for 2 years

From ‘Singapore top swimmer Joseph Schooling granted National Service deferment’, 21 Oct 2013, article by May Chen, ST

The government has granted swimmer Joseph Schooling’s request to defer his National Service obligation, enabling the 18-year-old to focus on training until after the 2016 Olympics. He is due for enlistment in 2014 but has been granted deferment until 31 August 2016.

Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen said in Parliament on Monday that the ministry had received a request from the swimmer’s parents earlier this year. He said: “The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth supported the appeal for deferment as they assessed that in his previous achievements in international competitions, Mr Schooling had potential to do well in the next Olympics.”

“As this appeal satisfies all the conditions for deferment of exceptional sportsmen, the Armed Forces council has decided to grant deferment for Mr Schooling for full-time NS till 31 August 2016 in order for him to train and do well in 2016 Olympic Games. He will be enlisted for full-time NS once his deferment ends.”

Schooling, is based in the United States where he is ranked among the top swimmers in his age group. He was the youngest competitor to qualify for the semi-finals of the 200m butterfly and 200m individual medley at the world championships in Barcelona this year.

In 2011, our Defence Minister announced that the list of disruptees from NS would be publicly available on the MINDEF website, however currently it only covers boys deferring for medical studies or those on PSC scholarships, without any mention of local sportsmen who took extended time off to train for prestigious competitions. If you’re an Olympic medal hopeful, you stand a good chance of deferment. In 2007, 2 national sailors and ‘elite’ athletes were granted disruption to train for the 2008 Games.  Joseph may consider himself fortunate to be be spared the hassle of NS for an entire 2 years, but others who were deemed less ‘exceptional’ in their talents and pursuits were not so lucky.

In 2010, Matthew Goh was denied deferment for 3 months to represent Singapore in the Asian Junior Championships and WORLD Junior Championships. His event? Long Jump. In the 2009 SEA games he shattered the national record of 7.62 metres, but ended up sixth overall. This year, he came in first in the less renown Institute-Varsity-Polytechnic championships, but recorded a significant drop in form from his SEA games feat at 7.03 m. He hopes to represent Singapore again in 2013-2015, but one can only wonder where he would be today if he was just given that sliver of chance to compete 3 years back. The problem of filtering out sportsmen based on their current achievements and Olympics-worthiness is that you risk depriving them a chance to achieve the desired potential. I can only hope Matthew Goh proves that assumption wrong. If all else fails there’s always foreign talent.

One may argue that MINDEF’s definition of exceptional merit means a history of medal wins and the potential to do well in the mother of all sporting events, and whether it’s sailing a boat, swimming or athletics, any sport that requires remarkable feats of endurance, strength and skill should be deserving of one’s complete devotion in order to enhance Singapore’s presence on the global stage. Apparently, that category includes staring at a computer screen and clicking furiously on a mouse.

In 2005, Stanley Aw, Counterstrike enthusiast had his NS deferred by 2 months to participate in the WORLD CYBER GAMES. I’m no sporting or gaming fan, but I’m certain long jump is an Olympic event and Counterstrike isn’t and NEVER will be. How is it that a record holder is denied deferment but not a videogame addict? Or maybe MINDEF thought Counterstrike would be relevant to NS training anyway and could utilise Aw’s elite soldier skills in field combat. Ex Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean had no explanation for it either. Lord knows what Stanley is up to now and I’ve no information on how well he did for that competition. Maybe he’s stationed somewhere in Afghanistan as Special Forces as we speak. If I knew that MINDEF was flexible towards non-traditional sports, I would have tried competitive Scrabble, Rubik Cube, or even ballroom dancing in my youth. Why waste all that sweat, aches and pains on something trivial like jumping off a white line?

Game on, soldier

Silat World champion not winning Sportsman of the Year

From ‘Silat world champ Shakir among those snubbed for sportsman title’, 31 May 2013, article by Goh Jun Yong, St and ‘Puzzling snub to world champ’, 1 June 2013, ST Forum

A world champion, an Olympian, a doubles winner in his sport’s top professional competition and a man who is third in Asia. Yet silat’s Muhammad Shakir Juanda (world champion), sailor Colin Cheng (15th in the men’s Laser class at the London Olympics), table tennis player Gao Ning (ITTF Pro Tour Grand Finals doubles winner), and wushu’s Seet Wee Key (Asian Championships bronze medallist) have been snubbed for the country’s top male athlete award.

It is just the third time since its inception in 1967 that the Singapore Sports Awards (SSA) will not have a Sportsman of the Year. The other two times were in 2009 and 2010. Said Singapore Bowling chief Jessie Phua, who also chairs this year’s SSA: “We acknowledge the athletes for their achievements. However, the bar has been raised and, this year, there just wasn’t a milestone that was significant enough for us to give this award out.

“There are definitions of World Championships that the selection committee does not agree with. You must take a look at how many people and countries are actually participating in the event. We can’t begrudge the athlete for conditions that he or she can’t control but, at the same time, we will not compromise on the standards of the award.”

(Yeo Yujin):…If being a world champion, like silat exponent Muhammad Shakir Juanda, is not significant enough, then what is? Can the selection committee be more transparent about its decision-making process? I agree with assistant sports editor Chia Han Keong’s view that an athlete should not be discriminated against just because his chosen sport is not mainstream or popular enough (“Let’s celebrate, not discriminate”; Wednesday).

At a time when we are trying to encourage our young to take up competitive sports, such an attitude from the committee is disappointing. How can we nurture the young if we don’t give them our support? What is there to strive for if your countrymen don’t think your achievements are worth celebrating?

There was a time when silat could have been the next Muay Thai, but martial arts star Iko Uwais didn’t get as much exposure in mainstream cinema as was hoped. Both Sportman and Sportswoman awards have been handed out generously to athletes in swimming, table tennis, badminton and even ten-pin bowling. Another form of non-Olympic martial arts, wushu, was recognised just ONCE in the Sportsman category courtesy of Goh Qiu Bin in 2006, and he wasn’t even a WORLD champion despite doing well in SEA and Asian competitions. Shakir Juanda beat contestants from UK, Netherlands, what he described as a 89kg RUSSIAN TANK and a 1.9m Vietnamese giant to bring glory to the state. The contest script reads like a Bloodsport movie, yet he was snubbed because according to the SSA judges, it just wasn’t a milestone that was ‘significant’ enough. Have these folks even watched the Karate Kid?

A missed opportunity to celebrate an underrated sport, but this isn’t the first time that Shakir’s achievements were glossed over as a nominee. In 2009, the reason given for the lack of any deserving winner then was that ‘the standard of Singapore sports has GONE UP‘. I wonder if that claim was based on the Beijing Olympic medal success of our table tennis foreign talents the year before. If our standard is so high today that we can’t afford to trivialise it by awarding a world champion, why aren’t there more Olympic medals?

It’s not that silat isn’t recognised by the SSA because Sportsboy and Sportsgirls have been crowned for excelling in it the past. Still, Shakir isn’t the only silat sportsMAN who has been deprived of the coveted title. Sheik Alau’ddin, triple Gold medal winner at the SEA games, did not win this as well. Yet, someone like Li Jiawei was given the female equivalent of the award FIVE YEARS in a row (2002-2006), and last reported to be going back to China, probably bringing all 5 trophies with her.

This isn’t the first time that winner selection, or the lack of, has stirred controversy. In 1970, a sports fan complained to Timesport about Henry Tan, second best bowler in the WORLD, losing out to C Kunalan (who won in 1969 and 1970), whom he called a ‘has-been’. Henry later went on to win the same title the very next year (1971) and again in 1976. So if Shakir keeps up the good work and we complain enough, next year may JUST be his year, provided we wake up from this pipe dream of table tennis being the eternal poster-child of Singapore sports.

There’s also a glaring omission from the Sportsman list of winners. You have the legendary likes of Ang Peng Siong, Benedict Tan and C Kunalan, but not the one legend who put Singapore on the world sporting map. Although the SSA formalised the award only in 1967, the title existed since 1961, which nominated individuals from CRICKET and even MOTOR RACING. This ignored individual has been ranked the No 2 GREATEST Singaporean athlete of all time (1999), and the only individual to ever win a silver Olympic medal, yet was NEVER officially awarded a ‘Sportsman of the Year’ (despite being namechecked by a journalist as the Sportsman of 1958)

His name? Tan Howe Liang.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 295 other followers