Speech By Mr Masagos Zulkifli BMM, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education & Ministry of Home Affairs, at the Launch of the MOE Youth Sports Academies at 3.00 pm on Friday, 23 July 2010 at Meridian Junior College

Distinguished guests,

Principals, Teachers,

Parents and students,

This is an exciting year for sports. We are now counting down to the Youth Olympic Games – just 21 days away! And I am sure all of us are eagerly waiting for the Games to commence. As we prepare to cheer and support our young athletes in this YOG, we must also continue to put in place structures and mechanisms to develop young promising athletes who will go on to do Singapore proud in the future.

Since the start of 2008, we have set up a total of 21 Junior Sports Academies, JSAs in short, offering a total of 11 sports. The JSAs cater to the development of talented athletes in the primary level. The programme has been well received by the students and their parents and they have given much feedback for the programme to be extended to the secondary level. We have taken their feedback seriously, done a comprehensive review and worked to make their wish a reality.

Hence, I am indeed happy to be here today to launch the MOE Youth Sports Academies 2010, and also, to officiate the Opening of the Meridian Junior College Museum.

The Youth Sports Academies, YSAs for short, provide centralised training for talented athletes at the Secondary and pre–university levels. The YSAs enable graduates of the JSAs, and other students who are in MOE secondary schools, junior colleges or centralised institute to receive a high level of training in their chosen sport. The YSAs complement the Singapore Sports School by providing a developmental pathway for students who are talented in sports but enrolled in regular schools in the system. The YSAs are housed in schools and institutions with facilities or expertise to support the training of these athletes.

The YSA initiative is part of the Physical Education and Sports Development Framework, announced by our Minister in May this year. The Framework highlights MOE’s priority in providing opportunities for all to be physically active and building a vibrant sports culture while at the same time, developing sporting talent for the nation. Together with the JSA and the Singapore Schools Sports Teams, the YSAs support the Talent Development Programmes.

For a start, three academies have been set up, each catering to a sport. The hosts for the first three YSAs and their sports are Bedok View Secondary for badminton, Meridian Junior College for wushu and Co–curricular Activities Branch for table tennis.

In the coming years, we will be setting up more YSAs which will cater to a wider range of sports. In time to come, at steady state, we could see up to a total of 10 academies catering to an estimated 1000 athletes in the secondary and pre–university levels.

To date, we have completed the first selection of students for the three sports. A total of 49 students in secondary 1 from 20 secondary schools have enrolled in the three YSAs. For the first year, we have invited only the students in secondary 1 to participate. More levels will be included in subsequent years.

The training sessions are conducted after school hours, and have started in March. Feedback from the students and their parents has been positive. The students who are in the YSAs and their parents are highly enthusiastic about the programme.

Mr Loh Quek Seng, whose son Darren Loh graduated from the JSA badminton at Henry Park Pri and is now training in the YSA badminton at Bedok View Secondary, is very appreciative that the programme has been extended to the secondary level. He said that being in YSA gave his son the added motivation to train harder and to excel, and he has benefited from the coaches’ experiences, training and development as well as being able to play regularly with more good players.

I would now like to address the student athletes in the hall. To the student athletes here today, you must have the inner desire to excel and the belief that you can achieve. An excellent role model to look up to would be our national women table tennis team. They would not be world champions today have they not had this desire and belief that they could do it. Despite many near misses – they obtained 2nd positions in the 2006 Asian Games, 2008 World Team Table Tennis Championship and 2008 Olympic Games, they did not lose hope that they would one day be world champions. The near misses only served to fuel their desires even more. They would go back to the drawing board, learn from their mistakes, train harder and each time, never losing that desire and belief.

With this emphasis, we have designed the YSA logo, which I will unveil later, as a burning torch. As you will subsequently put on the YSA training jersey with its logo, let it serve to remind you to burn brightly for Singapore – always hold dear to your passion and inner desire to learn, train and excel; to be Champions for the Future.

As I launch the Youth Sports Academies today, I would like to leave you with this quote from Muhammad Ali, who is widely considered as one of the greatest heavyweight championship boxers of all time. He said, “Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”

And I hope to see some of you going on to represent Singapore in the next YOG and other world youth championships in the near future.

Thank you, and onward!