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Looking Ahead to 2018: Ringing in a busy year for Singapore sports

SINGAPORE — As the festive season goes into full swing, the sports fraternity can finally kick back with a glass of bubbly as Team Singapore bids farewell to a 2017 punctuated arguably by more lows than highs.

Looking Ahead to 2018: Ringing in a busy year for Singapore sports

Joseph Schooling receives his gold medal for the SEA Games mens 100m buterfly on 23 August 2017. Photo: Jason Quah/TODAY

As the year draws to a close, TODAY kicks off a series looking at key issues on the local and foreign front in the next 12 months. In Singapore, we look at what lies ahead in areas ranging from political succession, climate change and the terrorism threat, to public transportation, e-payments, and the property market. Beyond our shores, the focus will be on the Malaysian general election and Singapore’s chairmanship of Asean. First up is sports, as we take a closer look at what sporting fans can expect in 2018.

 

SINGAPORE — As the festive season goes into full swing, the sports fraternity can finally kick back with a glass of bubbly as Team Singapore bids farewell to a 2017 punctuated arguably by more lows than highs.

While the highlight was a best-ever “away” haul at the South-east Asian (SEA) Games in Kuala Lumpur, what will stick longer in people’s memories will be the police raid on the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) and three football clubs over alleged misuse of funds.

But a New Year brings a fresh slate for Singapore sports, as the Republic’s finest — and the rest of the world — prepare for a busy calendar ahead.

The action for the 2018 season kicks off on the slopes of Pyeongchang, South Korea, at the Winter Olympic Games from February 9 to 25, followed by a packed calendar that includes the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games (April 4 – 15), the Fifa World Cup in Russia from June 14 to July 15, Asian Games in Indonesia (Aug 18 – Sept 2), and the Youth Olympic Games in Bueno Aires in October.

As the gears shift from the SEA Games to beyond the region, medal hopes will once again rest on Olympic swimming champion Joseph Schooling, teammate Quah Zheng Wen, and paddler Feng Tianwei.

The Republic’s sole representative at the Winter Games, short-track speed skater Cheyenne Goh, also deserves special mention after becoming the first-ever Singaporean to qualify for the Winter Olympiad.

HEADING TO THE GOLD COAST

Four years ago, at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, table tennis was Singapore’s top performer with six gold, two silver and two bronze medals.

Team Singapore’s shooters delivered a surprise at the Barry Buddon Shooting Centre, as Teo Shun Xie and Jasmine Ser clinched two gold medals respectively in the women’s 10m air pistol and women’s 50m rifle three positions.

This time, the focus will be on Schooling, and the 22-year-old will be the hot favourite for gold in the men’s 100m butterfly, his pet event.

However, fans will have to wait a little longer to find out if Schooling, who won a silver in the 2014 Games, will be competing in Gold Coast in April.

The University of Texas undergraduate has not decided if he will participate in the Commonwealth Games as the event will be held just 10 days after the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championship.

If he does make it to the pool, Schooling can expect a fiery showdown with South African rival Chad le Clos — who won two butterfly golds (100m, 200m) in Scotland four years ago — and Briton James Guy, who won a joint-bronze with Schooling at the Fina World Championships in Hungary in July.

Young guns like Martina Lindsay Veloso, who clinched gold at this year’s SEA Games, will also be aiming to make her mark. Four years ago, Veloso finished fifth in the women’s 10m air rifle, and the 18-year-old wants to win a medal if she makes the cut for the Games.

“Going into my second Commonwealth Games, I hope to (win a) medal, but at the same time I’m not putting expectation on myself because that can affect me,” said the Nanyang Polytechnic student.

(Above) Martina Veloso waves as she is introduced before competing in the SEA Games women’s air rifle 10m on 25 August, 2017. Photo: Jason Quah 

Veloso’s medal ambitions received a timely boost last month, when she won two bronze medals at the Commonwealth Shooting Federation and Oceania Shooting Federation Championships in Gold Coast — a test event ahead of the Commonwealth Games in April 2018.

The New Year, however, will bring new challenges for the teenager, with the sport introducing new rules from 2018 that will affect all tournaments and major Games.

The International Shooting Sport Federation has ruled that all shooting events will have the same number of shots for men and women, which will see women’s air rifle and air pistol events increasing from 40 to 60 shots, while the rifle three positions (3P) events will double from 60 to 120 shots.

“We definitely have to clock in more hours in training, especially for 3P,” said Veloso.

“It’s not easy in Singapore’s weather due to the amount of gear we have to wear, so it’s about building stamina on the range, and I’ll have to work on my physical (strength), cardio, strength and conditioning.”

ONWARD TO INDONESIA

Bowling, sailing and swimming were the three Singapore sports that made a big impact at the Incheon Asian Games in 2014, returning home with a total of five gold, six silver and 13 bronze medals.

Swimming’s golden boy Schooling stole the show in South Korea, where he broke Singapore’s 32-year gold medal drought at the Asiad by becoming the first male swimmer to win an individual title since Ang Peng Siong’s 100m freestyle win in New Delhi in 1982.

While Schooling will be looking to cement his position as Asia’s butterfly king, other Singaporean athletes will also be aiming to shine in Indonesia.

Four years ago, the women’s bowling team of Cherie Tan, Daphne Tan, Shayna Ng, New Hui Fen, Jazreel Tan and Joey Yeo upstaged hosts South Korea to clinch the team gold. “Our target will of course be to equal or better the previous result,” Ng told TODAY.

“Malaysia and South Korea are definitely our main competitors but in recent months, countries like Japan, Indonesia and Philippines have been very competitive as well, and Indonesia will have home ground advantage. The competition is going to be tough and we have to be sharp on the lanes.”

The winds at Jakarta’s Ancol Marina could also be in Singapore sailing’s favour when the Games come around in August.

At the 2014 Asian Games, the sailors won the majority of Singapore’s 24-medal haul – three gold, two silver, two bronze. Ten gold medals are on offer in the 2018 edition, and while Singapore Sailing Federation president Benedict Tan is confident that the sailors will be “super solid in the Olympic classes”, he stressed that the Asiad is not the end goal for Team Singapore.

“We want to dominate, it’s not always easy, but it’s an aspiration to achieve,” Dr Tan told TODAY.

“However, we don’t want to lose sight of the target, which is the Olympic Games. We want to do well at the Asian Games, because it is enroute to the Olympic pathway,” he added.

“But the Asian Games is not the barometer…if you want the sailors to be Olympic Games ready they also have to race on the main European circuit with the big boys.”

Laser sailor Ryan Lo, who won an optimist bronze at the 2010 Asian Games, is going for gold this time. “I am looking forward to the intense competition I will face and having more Games experience, which will prepare me better for the Olympics,” he said.

One of Singapore’s smaller sports could also throw up a surprise in Indonesia, with up-and-coming young fencer Amita Berthier a dark horse for a medal if she makes the cut for Games.

Since winning SEA Games gold in the women’s individual foil in Kuala Lumpur, the 17-year-old clinched a historic first-ever gold medal at the Havana Junior World Cup last Sunday.

Her achievements will see her closing out the year at a projected career high of world No 5 in the world junior rankings.

This is an all-time high for any Singaporean fencer in any weapon.

(Above) Amita Berthier is all smiles after reaching the Round of 32 at the World Championships, and giving a good account of herself against her world No 14 Russian opponent. Photo: Uma Berthier

A debut at the Asian Games among the best in the region may be high on the agenda for Amita, but she is careful to keep her feet on the ground.

“I don’t really have any expectations on a position or any medals, because there’s some really tough competition there, especially from the powerhouses like Korea, Japan and China,” she said.

“I want to make Singapore proud at any competition I’m competing in, so I can guarantee that if I go to Indonesia, I will give it my all.”

UNCERTAINTY OVER WORLD CUP

Every four years, football fans are kept at the edge of their seats as they await the announcement that either local telecommunication firms Singtel or StarHub has secured broadcast rights to the Fifa World Cup.

They will also be hoping to avoid the fiasco from 2010, when a television deal was signed just 35 days before the first match kickoff in South Africa. It drove prices up, as viewers paid four times more – S$70 for early-bird subscribers, $88 regular price – than the 2006 edition. Both telcos had submitted a joint-bid then.

Prices rose again for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, as Singtel won the exclusive broadcast rights, and fans had to fork out S$112.35 to watch the football action on their televisions.

With only six months left to the 2018 tournament in Russia, both telcos remain tight-lipped on the progress of their bids, leaving Singaporeans to wonder: How much more do we have pay this time?

ON THE LOCAL SPORTS FRONT

Outside of the sporting arena, several sports dominated the headlines for the wrong reasons in 2017.

Infighting and politicking among Singapore Athletics’ executive committee saw the national sports association (NSA) attempting to call snap elections to re-elect a new management committee.

Disputes between the association, a coach and athlete also prompted the authorities to step in to form a committee to take over the management of their SEA Games squad.

The problems were even worse for local football, as a landmark elections saw lurid revelations about takings from jackpot machines at some football clubs – including two linked to presidential candidate Bill Ng.

It eventually led to a raid by the police on three football clubs. All eyes will be on how the investigations pan out in 2018.

Over on the football pitch, the Lions did not fare any better, as the national football team slumped to an all-time low of No 173 on the Fifa rankings in October, before moving up one spot to 172 in December.

The national age group teams also suffered a string of embarrassing defeats this year, including an 11-0 loss to Japan in the Asian Football Confederation Under-16 Championship qualifiers.

(Above) The Lions training at Geylang Field, ahead of the Asian Cup Qualifiers against Chinese Taipei. Photo: Najeer Yusof

While Singapore Athletics remains in limbo, in contrast, the FAS has announced initiatives in a bid to lift the sport out of the doldrums.

Just last month, the FAS unveiled a three-point plan for youth development aimed at widening the base of players, improving the quality of coaches, and increasing opportunities for youth to play the sport.

In a bid to groom more young talents for the national team, age quota limits were also introduced for the 2018 S-League season, which will make it mandatory for clubs to register at least six under-23 players in their squads.

A revamp of the league also focused on improving the fitness level of the clubs’ players, as FAS president Lim Kia Tong stressed on the need for clubs, coaches and players to have a “professional mindset”.

While the age quota limits caused unhappiness among some veteran players, the response from the fraternity has been largely positive.

Tampines Rovers committee member Nicholas Narayanan is hopeful that fans will embrace the new-look teams when the Stags kick off their opening match of the 2018 season against league champions Albirex Niigata at the Sports Hub on March 31.

“We have quite a good fan base and following,” he said.

“We have placed our trust in the coach to build an attractive football side, which will help our brand. I also hope that the younger players can assimilate quickly and excite the crowds.”

*On Monday (Dec 25), watch out for our report on Singapore’s push for electronic payment in 2018.

MAJOR SPORTING EVENTS IN 2018:

Feb 9-25: Winter Olympic Games (Pyeongchang, South Korea)

Apr 4-15: Commonwealth Games (Gold Coast, Australia)

Apr 28-29: HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens (Singapore Sports Hub)

June 14 – July 15: Fifa World Cup (Russia)

Aug 18 – Sept 2: Asian Games (Indonesia)

Sept 14-16: Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix (Marina Bay)

Oct 6-18: Youth Olympic Games (Bueno Aires, Argentina)

Oct 8-16: Asian Para Games (Indonesia)

Oct 21-28: WTA Finals Singapore (Singapore Indoor Stadium)

Nov 8 – Dec 15: AFF Suzuki Cup

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