Out to entice local talent
Philanthropist teams up with STTA to launch trust fund for paddlers with Olympic dreams
It has got more and more kids playing the sport, installed development programmes for those who show promise, and worked with the Singapore Sports School to give its elite young athletes a leg up.
Last year, the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) inked a deal with the University of Liverpool to open doors for players approaching the tail end of their career.
Yesterday, Singapore's leading national sports association (NSA) signed a deal it hopes will be the final piece in the jigsaw aimed at inspiring local-born paddlers to shoot for the stars.
Singaporeans have long been known to prioritise academic excellence over sporting success, but for local-born athletes who qualify for the Olympics, the STTA will ensure that they can have both.
Their tertiary education, at a university of their choice, will be fully funded by a newly-minted million-dollar trust fund named the "STTA - Dr Tahir & Associates Future Ready Trust Fund".
The former president of Indonesia's table tennis association, Dr Tahir is a prominent philanthropist and businessman who founded the Mayapada Group.
He has thrown his weight behind an initiative he believes will benefit local athletes as well as a sport that has already bagged three medals for Singapore at the last two Olympics.
Speaking after a press conference yesterday, STTA president Lee Bee Wah said: "Many people say that we'll never have a local-born player at the Olympics, but if we give them every assistance possible... and remove obstacles, I think we can one day have a local-born player at the Olympics."
Lee has overseen much success, including a stunning world championship crown in 2010, but it has all come through a stable of naturalised citizens like Li Jiawei, Wang Yuegu and Feng Tianwei.
The aim now is to get local youngsters to follow in the their footsteps.
Aimed at allaying the fears of local parents and athletes who tend to fret over the long-term prospects of being elite athletes, as well as post-sport careers, Lee hopes this programme will meet broad needs.
"It is never easy to encourage local talent to pursue sport professionally and Dr Tahir's gift to STTA will greatly improve our ability to achieve this goal. Most importantly, we hope that the fund will spur our local talent to dream big," she said.
"This trust fund will pay for tuition fees and living expenses for any university that the player wants to go to... even if the player chooses not to go to a university and attend culinary school instead."
Lee was inspired to set up the trust fund after a conversation with 19-year-old Singapore paddler Isabelle Li at her Republic Polytechnic (RP) graduation last month.
Ranked 178th in the world, Li is perhaps the brightest local talent among the women, and at her graduation, she received RP's Board Of Governors' Most Outstanding Award.
The paddler related to the table tennis chief her worries over the possibility of escalating costs when she signed up to continue her studies at NUS-Yale - Li will join the university once she finishes full-time table tennis - and Lee decided such athletes needed help to ensure they focused on the sport.
Outlining his reason for backing the fund, Dr Tahir said: "For most athletes, competing at the Olympic Games is the pinnacle of their career. To reach the Games, athletes must have made many sacrifices and have dedicated both time and energy to their sport.
"For this reason, I would like to give back to these dedicated athletes by providing them with financial assistance and support to prepare them for life after their sports career."
We’re aiming for the 2016 Olympic Games. We had young players who arrived at (this year’s) World Championships in Japan with the women ranked fifth, and the men ranked 15th (in the world). But the women left Japan finishing third and the men in the top eight. We have a great team, and I’m happy with the progress. If we continue to work hard, we will be on track for 2016.
- STTA president Lee Bee Wah