Veteran politician Chiam sets up sports foundation
Organisation is aimed at helping needy athletes achieve their sporting dreams
Veteran opposition politician Chiam See Tong returned to the chamber of the The Arts House at Old Parliament House yesterday, the very place where in the past he had stood up to speak on national issues, and to back the average Singaporean.
He struggled off his wheelchair as he entered the chamber and needed help walking to his seat, but Chiam, who turns 82 on Sunday, is still standing for the average Singaporean - this time for athletes.
At his former stomping ground, the former Potong Pasir MP launched the Chiam See Tong Sports Foundation yesterday.
Chiam and his wife Lina are co-patrons of the new organisation, chaired by Singapore swim legend Ang Peng Siong, with Singapore Swimming Association vice-president (finance) Jose Raymond as his deputy.
Chiam's daughter Camilla, former national swimmer May Ooi and ex-national sprinter UK Shyam sit on the board.
The foundation has an initial war chest of about $70,000 and is aimed at helping needy athletes achieve their sporting dreams, while advocating for sport in the country.
"Our children are our future, and we must provide them with as many opportunities as possible, so that they will find many paths towards being successful, patriotic Singaporeans. Sports is a unifying tool for nation-building and in building strong community bonds," said Chiam, who was one of the top swimmers at Anglo-Chinese School as a student.
"We must continue to find ways to work together as a community, and to continue having faith in our children, and in believing in them."
The foundation aims to raise $1 million in the first year through a series of fund-raisers that will likely kick off with a swimathon.
There are other existing funding schemes, but Raymond said that more support is always better, highlighting that Chiam's foundation is distinctly different.
"We're reaching out to a lower level, the community level, to under-resourced kids who don't need to be elite athletes or even school athletes," he said, asserting that their net will be cast wide to reach an array of sports.
Shyam's 100m time of 10.37 seconds was set in 2001 and remains the national record, but the 40-year-old grew up in a single-parent family and is a good example of an athlete who needed financial support in his formative years.
"My years as a sprinter were always filled with challenges, especially from a financial perspective," said Shyam, a Hwa Chong Institution lecturer.
"I was lucky that I had people like Uncle Peng Siong and Jose, who were always around to help.
"It is important to give our young children a helping hand when they need it most, and hope that they become our national champions someday."
Some 15 young footballers became the foundation's first beneficiaries yesterday. Most of the boys are from low-income families living in the Jalan Kukoh and York Hill area, and each received a pair of football boots.
"These boys have talent, and we hope that with good training and a place for us to play, some of them can go on to play in the S.League, or maybe the national team - that is the dream," said Ahmad Habib, president of the Kampong Boys team - which the beneficiaries play for.
For the Chiams, this foundation is merely an extension of the work of a man who got into politics to be a voice for those around him.
"His motto has always been: for the people, for the country," said Lina Chiam of her husband.
"And this is just a continuation of his work."