Behind-the-scenes work most impressive, says SNOC chief

SNOC President Tan Chuan-Jin (centre) visits the women's softball team during their preparations for the 28th SEA Games.

22 Jul 2015

On his one-year anniversary as the President of Singapore National Olympic Council, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin reflects on what he has learned and shares his desire for a more vibrant sports ecosystem in Singapore in a two-part interview.

Read Part II here – Embrace science to up, and extend, your game in sports

A QUIET gym, a silent arena, a lonely hall. Away from the cheers of fans and the colour of competition. Daily perspiration wrapped in a lifetime of aspirations.

For athletes, the toils of training and the grind of repetition are the norms of the quests for excellence. 

Few have witnessed such granular perseverance. But for Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, such scenes are the images which he cherishes in his first year as president of the Singapore National Olympic Council.

“I have not met anyone who didn’t care about, didn’t feel passionate and proud about representing the country,” he said in an interview to mark his maiden year as council chief.

“I have visited them at training, going through with their administrators to understand what the athletes go through.

“There is a phenomenal amount of effort that goes in – not just the athletes but many other people are involved: the trainers and the support staff. But people don’t see that. That gives me a lot of pride.”

Upon succeeding Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean as SNOC president last year, Mr Tan pledged to visit the national sports associations (NSAs) to get to know athletes and officials better. He will be continuing his series of visits.

The visits gave him insights into the sports scene in Singapore and he believes more can be done to help athletes.

First, a more calibrated approach towards different sports and different athletes may better serve the sportsmen, he said.

So while most fans would look at the world stage and the Olympics, he believes there is scope for more tiers of excellence.

“Some sports we should strive to compete at the world level,” said Mr Tan, who is also Minister for Social and Family Development. “Like our swimmers, some of them are potentially moving to that stage. For some other sports, we might be excelling at the Asian level.”

For others, the target should be to perform well at the South-east Asian Games platform, before inching upwards.

“In some sports, we may take longer to move up, for some, we may not quite get to the world class level. But it doesn’t give us as Singaporeans any less pride,” he said.

“It doesn’t mean that we should be proud of ourselves only when our athletes are world class standards. There are many different types of competition.”

Second, the NSAs should minimise public squabbles, he said, so as to not affect athletes’ training and preparation.

“I don’t like it when it affects our athletes,” he said, referring to feuds between parties in NSAs.

“It can be very distracting. You can be in the midst of preparing for these games, and it is not useful at all.

He called for clearer structures and less ambiguity in the running of the associations. Such transparency would lead to fewer allegations of bias, he said.

Among the NSAs which have impressed him are swimming, bowling, shooting, and sailing.

“I don’t know if it is a chicken and egg thing. They are doing well, so people want to be involved, sponsors and others,” he observed.

The observations of the officials, coaches and administrators, working quietly behind the scenes, have been memorable for him in the past year as he gained insights into the making of top athletes in Singapore.

He said: “To see the process unfold is meaningful.”