By Nicole Chia – The Straits Times
For the past three weeks, assistant sales manager Joewe Lam has doubled as a GrabHitch driver during his commute to and from work.
The extra cash is not for Christmas presents but to help fund his and his fellow national ice hockey team-mates’ participation at next year’s Asian Winter Games (AWG).
Almost half the 20-men squad have turned to GrabHitch to raise the $2,300 each needs to cover their flights and accommodation at the Games village in Japan. They also have to pay for the three team officials who will accompany them for the Feb 18-26 AWG.
This is the first time Singapore is competing in ice hockey at the quadrennial Games, though it will be self-funded.
The Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) classifies the AWG as a minor Games – others in this category include the Asian Beach Games and Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games – and does not provide funding.
It gives support only for selection, administration, logistics, sports science and uniforms and has provided the ice hockey squad with Team Singapore winter apparel.
The SNOC coordinates the selection of Singaporean athletes for competition at major Games such as the Olympic Games, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and SEA Games.
Having to fork out about $1,000 for the airfare and US$50 (S$72) for each of the 10 nights at the village was tough, Lam, 27, told The Straits Times. “But we can’t complain because we love the sport and want it to grow. I hope the AWG will give us a chance to make a breakthrough for future ice hockey players in Singapore.”
He earns an extra $30 to $40 daily through GrabHitch and occasionally helps his father, who owns a delivery company, with odd jobs on some weekends.
On top of funding their AWG participation, Lam and his team-mates pay for the cost of booking The Rink at JCube, Singapore’s only Olympic-sized ice rink, for training. The number of sessions has doubled in preparation for the AWG.
“(Booking the ice rink) is not cheap,” said Singapore Ice Hockey Association (Siha) president Alphonsus Joseph.
“Depending on the time, it can cost anywhere from $500 to $2,000 per hour, and this cost has to be divided among the players who come for training.”
The financial burden could prove too much for 30-year-old forward Ignatius Ng, who is considering withdrawing from the squad.
He lost his job managing a food and beverage outlet because the company closed down last year, and started his new job as a legal clerk just 11/2 months ago.
“I really want to go (for the AWG), but my wife is pregnant and we just got our house, so money is tight for us now,” added Ng, who hopes to take up a freelance job as an inline-skating coach next month.
“My spare cash is spent on ice time and it’s not cheap, so it’s quite painful.”
Despite their struggles, the team was optimistic of a credible showing in Sapporo.
The men’s competition is split up into three categories and Singapore are in the second-tier Division I alongside Mongolia, Thailand, Chinese Taipei, world No. 44 Hong Kong and No. 46 United Arab Emirates. Only the latter two countries have an official world ranking.
The target is to finish third, said Siha president Joseph, and build on that momentum for the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, where winter sports make its debut.
He added: “It also gives us a benchmark to see where we stand, because Thailand are the favourites for SEA Games gold, so it’s a good way for us to judge what our level is and for us to make any necessary changes before the SEA Games.”