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Speech by Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Education, at the Opening Ceremony of the National School Games

Published Date: 31 March 2021 06:00 PM

News Speeches

Mr Tony Low
Chairperson, Singapore Schools Sports Council

Mrs Lee Hui Feng
Chairperson, Singapore Primary Schools Sports Council

Principals, Teachers, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls

1. I am very happy to be able to join all of you at this year's National School Games Opening Ceremony. The National School Gameshas always been a highlight in the school calendar, even back when I was a student, so this is a moment I am sure all of us have been looking forward to.

2. Today we mark the official start of the school sports season for our athletes from the Primary and Secondary schools, Junior Colleges as well as Centralised Institute.

3. This is also the first time our National School Games Opening Ceremony is held at Our Tampines Hub (OTH), which is a lively community space where people get to enjoy doing many activities together including sports.

4. Of course this year's National School Games holds even more significance because it is taking place amidst the pandemic. I know this has been a very difficult period for everyone – our teachers, students and their parents. Last year we had to suspend the National School Games, it was a very painful decision and it was the first time that the Games had to be suspended since the start of the Games in 1959. You can imagine they have gone through decades of crisis and difficult times, but throughout these decades, we have always been able to continue the Games, but only last year we had to suspend it. I am sure it was very difficult for our student athletes who had been training hard in anticipation of the competition which did not materialise.

5. Earlier this year, we thought that we were able to resume the Games and get it going again. As you recalled, we saw an uptick in local cases and we had to tighten up some of our measures and defer the Games. We were very worried at that time that we would have to suspend the Games for two consecutive years and there was a very real risk that this could happen.

6. Fortunately, we tightened up the measures and we were able to bring down local transmission and keep it under control. After the Chinese New Year festivities, we have not seen any uptick in cases. At the same time, we have also started ramping up our vaccination across the entire population and also amongst our teachers to protect our educators, as well as our students and the school community.

7. All of this has given us confidence that today we are finally able to proceed with the National School Games. The fact that we can proceed with the Games today is a testament that amidst such a global pandemic, the human spirit can still endure and overcome.

8. While we are resuming the Games, we are not doing it in the same fashion as before. We are adapting and putting in place precautions and many additional modifications. This is because even though the infection is currently under control in Singapore, we are still not out of the woods. The virus has not been eradicated from our community and it is very likely that there is still a low level of viral circulation in our midst, and that is why we need to remain alert and vigilant.

9. That is why we have put in place Safe Management Measures for the safe conduct of the Games. This includes limits on the number of people in a venue. There are no spectators. All this means that the the competitions will feel very different from before. I hope that all our participants – coaches, student athletes, teachers will take this in the right spirit, and do our part to minimise the risks of infection.

10. Importantly, another change that we are making is that we are starting the Games with 12 sports rather than all 29 sports. We used two key criteria to identify these 12 sports. Firstly, these are non-contact sports that involve limitedphysical contact. Second, these are sports with minimal intermingling between participants from different schools at the competition venues.

11. We have decided to do this to reduce the risks of cross-infection. So even if someone were to get infected, there is less likelihood of the virus spreading amongst the student athletes across different schools. We can then very quickly identify and isolate the infected case, and avoid large clusters from breaking out across multiple schools. This was the rationale and thinking behind the criteria, which was worked out together with public health experts to ensure that the Games can be conducted safely.

12. It was a very tough decision to have to limit the number of sports for the National School Games. I fully understand that the student athletes in these sports must be very disappointed. I hope everyone understands why we had to make this tough call. As much as we would like every student to be back on the sporting stage, the safety and well-being of students remains our top priority.

13. To all our student athletes, especially those who are unable to take part in the Games this year, I would like to encourage you to continue honing your skills through CCA training sessions and competitions among yourselves.

14. As you heard earlier from Mr Tony Low, remember sporting excellence is not defined solely by achievements in the National School Games. It has to go beyond that. Well-structured training sessions can challenge and push you to reach and maintain high levels of sporting excellence. I know that it requires a high level of motivation, discipline, will-power and character to train regularly and give your full commitment, especially if you have to do this outside of competition settings.

15. We salute all our student athletes for your adaptability, resilience and grit during this difficult period. We are proud of each and everyone of you.

16. We will continue to review the situation as we resume the Games for the other Divisions. If the Covid-19 situation remains under control, and with more people in Singapore getting vaccinated, there is a chance that we can allow for more sports to be included for the other Divisions later in the year. It may also be possible to consider easing some of the Safe Management Measures. For example, if you look at what Japan is doing for the Olympics, sporting competitions are already taking place and they even allow spectators, but they are only allowed to clap, but not cheer. They also have safe distancing ambassadors all around to remind people that only clapping is allowed. So we will look at what various countries and sporting organisers are doing, and we will continue to review the situation within Singapore and see what changes and adaptations can be done for the other Divisions when the Games are held later in the year.

17. Regardless of whether you are able to compete in the National School Games this year, I hope all our student athletes take the opportunity to reflect and take stock of your sporting journey so far and how this has shaped your response to adversity. Cherish the bonds you have formed with your fellow teammates, coaches, teachers and even your parents who have journeyed with you, and continue to give your best and keep striving for excellence in everything you do.

18. A lot of hard work takes place behind the scenes to put together the National School Games. This is so under normal circumstances, and it is doubly so under Covid-19 times. To the school leaders, teachers, coaches and especially, the members of both sports councils, a big thank you for all the hard work put in making the National School Games possible. Let's all do our part to rise above the challenges, and make the Games this year a safe and successful one .

19. All the very best to those competing in the Games in the next few weeks. Play hard, keep safe and continue to uphold the spirit of the Games!