Singapore Lions stalk Asia’s best
Sept. 18, 2020 @ 9:45 UTC
Lush tropical gardens, a gentle humid breeze, glittering modern skyscrapers, the fragrant smell of chilli crab, the sound of the referee’s whistle on a Touch field! This is Singapore.
An island nation, Singapore is situated just off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, in South- East Asia. It sits just 152 kilometres north of the equator, and along with Japan is one of Asia’s Touch powerhouses.
There are about 5000 touch players in Singapore and just over 100 club teams. The number of teams have doubled in the last three years. Participation in the sport is divided equally between men and women. Singapore sent eight teams to World Cup Malaysia 2019, the fourth largest contingent. Chris Hallewell, President of Touch Singapore (TSG) and Mens 30 representative, and Derelyn Chua, who captained the Open Women’s team to a creditable 4th place, were part of the contingent. They both caught up with Adam Collins, from the Federation of International Touch (FIT), for a Singapore episode of ‘Set of Six’.
The COVID-19 situation was discussed and it is no surprise that the TSG has cancelled the National Touch League this year. Singapore has recorded remarkably few deaths from the virus with only 27 deaths out of a total of 57000 cases to date. Since the start of September, new positive cases have been below 50 per day, so perhaps some competition Touch can resume this year.
The City-State of Singapore has a population of 5.85 million people but a tiny landmass of only 721.5 square kilometres. Needless to say, space is at a premium. This was identified by President of Touch Singapore Chris Hallewell as a challenge. “We are at capacity with our league due to a lack of field space,” he said. Touch Singapore luckily has good relations with several Rugby clubs which allow shared access to their playing fields.
Women's Open Captain Derelyn Chua identified another challenge to the development of Touch “We don’t have Touch in High School so we tend to be 17 or18 years old when we pick it up”. This does present an area of growth potential as well, as Chris noted, “The biggest area of opportunity is to get into schools when students are younger.” Despite this challenge Singapore youth teams have performed well at international competition, with three teams making the finals at the 2018 World Youth Cup in Malaysia. Also noted by Chris was the quick progression of youth players into senior teams. “Nine or ten of the players who went to the World Youth Cup went to Malaysia 2019.”
More Tests please
Singapore has struggled to get exposure to regular international competition. This is a story familiar to emerging nations. “We want to be able to play Test Matches as often as makes sense and to make it affordable. We are a self-funded sport; we don’t receive any government funding,” said Chris. A focus for the leadership of TSG will be to try to gain sponsorship in order to subsidise player costs.
Due to financial constraints, Singapore Touch has tended to host teams, rather than travel. For the past couple of years, National teams from Japan and Hong Kong have toured Singapore. A rivalry to watch is developing, especially between Singapore and Japan, who are arguably the two most successful touch nations in Asia. Derelyn Chua is still coming to terms with losing to Japan in the Open Women's bronze medal match at Malaysia 2019. She is looking forward to a rematch. “We are good enough to compete with Japan,” Derelyn said.
Singapore Lion finds it's voice
Touch in Singapore is tracking very well. Despite the challenges, they won bronze in Men's 50 at Malaysia 2019, placed 4th in Women's Open and had great success at the 2018 Youth World Cup. Tenacity, effective management and a love for the sport have meant the Singapore Touch lion has started to roar.