No funding? No facilities? No problem for Singapore’s winning wrestlers

Singapore's national freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestlers in a sparring session at their Jurong home. (Yahoo! Photo)Singapore's national freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestlers in a sparring session at their Jurong home. (Yahoo! P …

Tucked away at the back of a remote futsal facility in Jurong, an inconspicuous blue door opens to the headquarters of the Wrestling Federation of Singapore (WFS).

But step inside and you won’t find grossly muscle-bound men in fancy costumes jumping off ropes or slapping and hurling chairs at each other.

Instead, the cramped, stuffy room – once used to store the boxing ring for 2010’s Youth Olympic Games – serves as the training area for Singaporean exponents in the Olympic disciplines of freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. The latter differs in its prohibition of moves below the waist.

Here, for over two hours daily, up to 15 national athletes jostle for space to hone their skills on a mat designed for two competitors only.

“We have to accommodate so many people on a mat that is even then cut off and not fully-stretched out,” said WFS secretary and wrestler Aaron Koh. “The training is not as efficient compared to our counterparts overseas, and compared to before.”

The WFS – founded in 2008 by Americans Michael DeNoma and actor Jimmy Taenaka – was once based at a 7,000 sq ft complex in Aljunied. Although primary patron DeNoma left Singapore in late 2010, the infant sport still grew at an impressive pace, scoring silver and bronze medals at the last two Southeast Asian (SEA) Games and expanding its operations to five affiliated locations.

Then the reality of budget and funding issues after their major sponsor withdrew hit hard in March last year, forcing the WFS to bid farewell to its Aljunied home as well as long-time coach Sergei Beloglazov. Training is now voluntarily conducted by part-timers Aliaksandr Hubarevich, a Belarussian PhD student at Nanyang Technological University, and wrestler Paulo Gumal Delos Santos, who flies in from the Philippines on a need-to basis.


Hubarevich keeping a watchful eye on the wrestlers during training. (Yahoo! Photo)


To make matters worse, the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) recently cut annual funding for the sport from S$199,000 to just over S$44,000 for the new fiscal year.

Gabriel Huang, operations manager and athlete at WFS, told Yahoo! Singapore that the new budget will cover only payment for the use of their Jurong storeroom.

“This cut is major to us because it feels like years of work coming unstuck,” said Huang. “We’ve submitted an appeal, but if it doesn’t go through, we’ll have to consider moving out and de-affiliating from the SSC and the Singapore National Olympic Council.”

It was against this backdrop of less-than-favourable conditions that the national wrestlers made history earlier this month at the Pre-SEA Games in Myanmar. For the first time ever in an overseas competition, Singapore achieved three gold medals, courtesy of Leonard Kong and Arvind Lalwani, on top of one silver and five bronzes.

Click on to meet the winning Singaporean wrestlers.

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