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Local paddlers get S$1 million boost to their Olympic dreams

SINGAPORE — The Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) yesterday announced a S$1 million trust fund aimed at encouraging local-born national paddlers to pursue their Olympic dream. Bankrolled by Indonesian billionaire Dr Tahir, the Dr Tahir & Associates Future Ready Trust Fund is one of the richest sports trust funds in Singapore and is aimed at giving the Republic’s paddlers a secure future.

SINGAPORE — The Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) yesterday announced a S$1 million trust fund aimed at encouraging local-born national paddlers to pursue their Olympic dream. Bankrolled by Indonesian billionaire Dr Tahir, the Dr Tahir & Associates Future Ready Trust Fund is one of the richest sports trust funds in Singapore and is aimed at giving the Republic’s paddlers a secure future.

The fund will be used to pay for the university educations — in any local or overseas institution — or further learning and life skills courses for the paddlers. Local-born players who reach the Olympic Games from 2016 and beyond will be able to apply for grants from the fund.

A brainchild of STTA president Lee Bee Wah, the trust fund came about after Dr Lee’s conversation last month with paddler Isabelle Li at the 19-year-old’s graduation ceremony at Republic Polytechnic.

Ms Li, a 2010 Youth Olympics silver medallist who intends to train full-time for the 2015 SEA Games and 2016 Olympic Games, had told Dr Lee that she had applied to Yale-NUS College to lock in current tuition fees of S$25,000 for fear that they might potentially increase in the future.

“I told her as long as she made the 2020 Olympics or beyond, we will take care of her tuition fees,” said Dr Lee at the launch of the trust fund yesterday at the STTA’s Toa Payoh headquarters.

“We started looking into setting up a trust fund to ring-fence the money so it’s always there and available.

“A lot of people say we can never have Olympians who are local players, but I don’t believe that. I believe if we can remove all the possible obstacles, one day, we should be able to produce local-born table tennis Olympians.

Ms Li was happy to hear the news yesterday, telling TODAY: “(The) trust fund will inspire aspiring paddlers to focus wholeheartedly on representing Singapore at the Olympics. It will definitely be a weight off our minds, especially with the rising cost of university fees.”

Dr Tahir, founder and executive chairman of Indonesian conglomerate Mayapada Group, has in the past donated S$30 million to the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore.

Last year, the 62-year-old businessman and philanthropist, together with two private donors, gave S$500,000 to the STTA via his real estate firm Grace Shine, to fund the players’ training and overseas tournaments, youth development plans and other programmes.

Calling Dr Lee an “outstanding president”, Dr Tahir, who is a former chief of the Indonesian Table Tennis Association, said he was happy to support her proposal, given that studies and career have often been cited as main reasons for Singapore athletes choosing not to pursue sports full time.

“When you have a good student (who is also) a good player, they are always at a crossroad and dilemma,” said Dr Tahir. “Dr Lee had a good proposal, (which allows them to) play for as long as possible (without) worrying about their education.”

Dr Lee took the helm at the STTA in 2008 and, since 2011, has raised more than S$5 million in sponsorship for the association.

Last September, the STTA inked a partnership for 10 national players to study at the UniSIM for free. The STTA’s other educational partners include the University of Liverpool, Nanyang Technological University and Beijing Sport University, which provides special admissions and/or scholarships to current and former national paddlers.

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