The Singapore Sports Awards are a series of annual awards that honour the achievements of Singapore’s sportsmen and sportswomen. Organised by the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC), the Awards were first given out in 1968 for sporting achievements in 1967. The Awards now cover 11 categories, including Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year, Coach of the Year, and Team of the Year.
The Singapore Olympic and Sports Council (SOSC, which later became the SNOC) introduced the Awards in 1967. The president of the SOSC, Minister for Social Affairs Othman Wok, sought to reward Singaporean athletes and encourage higher standards of sporting achievement through the Awards. While much of newly independent Singapore’s attention was focused on academics, business and industry, Othman perceived that through sports, the nation could promote physical health and strength, which would in turn aid nation-building. In 1968, the SOSC wrote to its 25 affiliated national sports associations to invite nominations for the Awards. The criteria for nominees were proposed by Lau Teng Chuan, the athletics delegate to the SOSC, and accepted by the council. The criteria took into account medal tallies at international and regional Games, the medal tally in local competitions that featured international opposition, as well as athletes’ conduct, discipline and dedication to training and their sport.
By August 1968, only the associations of weightlifting, swimming, athletics and fencing had nominated athletes. The council extended the deadline for nominations and by December, 16 male and seven female athletes had been nominated by 16 associations. A panel of eight judges was formed, chaired by Othman and including representatives from the business, government, media and sporting sectors such as Wee Kim Wee, a Straits Times journalist and later president of Singapore; Chan Chee Seng, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Social Affairs; A. W. Kirby, general manager of Rothmans of Pall Mall, Singapore; and Francis Thomas, principal of St Andrew’s School.
First Singapore Sports Awards
The first Awards were presented at the Istana on 27 December 1968. Patricia Chan, a 14-year-old swimmer, was named Sportswoman of the Year while another swimmer, Tan Thuan Heng, was Sportsman of the Year. Chan, a student at Methodist Girls’ School, had had an outstanding Southeast Asian Peninsular Games (SEAP, later SEA Games), winning 10 gold medals, all in record times, among medals in other tournaments. Tan, meanwhile, had clinched four gold medals, two in record times, at the SEAP Games.
Meritorious Awards were also presented to Cheong Wai Hing (athletics), Peck Noi Huay (table tennis), Chua Phung Kim (weightlifting), Canagasabai Kunalan (athletics), Ariff Hussain (cycling) and K S Moorthy (judo).
The athletes received pewter trophies worth S$1,400 donated by Rothmans, and their respective associations received cash awards of S$5,000. Certificates of Merit were also presented to deserving athletes. It was decided that from 1969, nominations for the Awards had to be made by March so that the recipients could be announced by May.
The Awards judging committee continued to comprise representatives from the business, government, media and sporting sectors, chaired by the president of the SNOC. By 1970, the SNOC president was Edmund William Barker, then Minister of Home Affairs. Later presidents included Yeo Ning Hong and Teo Chee Hean.
The first Sportswoman of the Year, Patricia Chan, dominated the Award in its early years. After her fifth consecutive win in 1972, the SNOC introduced a new ruling that prevented athletes from receiving the Award more than three times. The Coach of the Year Award, introduced in 1970, could now only be received once by an individual. Patricia’s father, Dr Chan Ah Kow, was one of three joint recipients of the first Coach of the Year Award in 1970 and also received the prize for the next two years. The new ruling therefore prevented both father and daughter from adding to their haul.
A new Award for Team of the Year was first given to the Schools Under-18 football team for 1973. In 1977, the Sportsboy and Sportsgirl of the Year Awards were added, and first awarded in 1978. The first Sportsboy of the Year was swimmer Marc Tay while the first Sportsgirl of the Year was another swimmer, Junie Sng.
In 1990, five disabled athletes were nominated for the Awards for the first time. They were Raja Singh, Tang See Chong and Derek Yzelman for the Sportsman of the Year Award, and Ong Bah Lee and Lim Poh Eng for Sportswoman of the Year. The following year, the cash awards were increased to S$10,000 for the Sportsman, Sportswoman and Team of the Year Awards, S$6,000 for the Coach of the Year and S$4,000 for Meritorious Awards.
The SNOC reviewed and revamped the Awards structure in 2004 after seeking feedback from officials, coaches and athletes. One of the major changes introduced was the removal of the ruling that prevented athletes from receiving a maximum of three Awards. This allowed table tennis player Li Jiawei, who had won successive Sportswomen of the Year Awards from 2002 to 2004, to continue her streak in 2005 and 2006. Another change made foreigners eligible for the Coach of the Year Award. The first foreign coach to win the Award was badminton trainer Zheng Qingjin in 2005.