writer: Patwan singh
At the last Southeast Asian (SEA) Games hosted in Singapore in 1993, the national squash team made a clean sweep, winning all four gold medals on offer.
The likes of Zainal Abidin and Peter Hill led the Singapore charge on home ground.
Singapore’s squash players last won two gold medals at the 1995 SEA Games in Chiangmai, Thailand.
Now, national squash player Vivian Rhamanan is looking to repeat part of that feat by clinching at least one gold medal at the 2015 SEA Games which will be hosted by Singapore.
And the Singapore Squash Rackets Association (SSRA) is looking to roll out a host of other plans to revive the sport under the stewardship of recently elected president Woffles Wu.
Mr Rhamanan is juggling two roles as assistant national coach and as a member of the national squad.
And he is setting his sights high when the EA Games are hosted in Singapore in 2015.
The 27-year-old is targeting gold in his first SEA Games outing.
He said: "I am going to give my 150 per cent and more if I can, and try and catch up with the Malaysians. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity, playing in the SEA Games is a dream come true for me, so I am not going to hold back and go all out."
Mr Rhamanan and seven other players form the current SEA Games 2015 squad.
But SSRA’s new president Woffles Wu has a longer term vision for the sport.
The plastic surgeon and recreational squash player is just two months into the job.
But he has already raised some S$90,000 in sponsorship funds to be used to drive youth development and grow the talent pool of athletes.
Mr Wu and his team raised S$50,000, and the Singapore Sports Council contributed S$40,000 as part of a matching grant.
The plan includes reaching out to neighbourhood schools, which are not among the 14 schools which currently offer the sport as a co-curricular activity.
To date, three schools -- Junyuan, Fuchun and Xin Min Secondary -- have come on board with a further four to six schools targeted to be added annually over a five-year period.
Mr Wu said: "We (SSRA) put together a programme called SRAP or Schools Recruitment and Adoption Programme. We go to that school and arrange for the kids to have coaching. We fund the coaching and we also organise the nearest available squash court to that school."
The SSRA is working with clubs and condominiums to get them to loan their courts to these schools in the day, when utilisation is low.
To support these budding players, the national coaching staff is also being beefed up, with foreign coaches expected to be hired soon.
A coach from Pakistan, Ibrahim Gul, could join the ranks by next year.
There are also plans to grow local events, and revive the Singapore Open.
Mr Wu elaborated: "We would ideally like to have a home-grown company be the title sponsor for the Singapore Open which hasn't been around for the last decade and a half. So it is about time to resurrect the Singapore Open and make it into a PSA (Professional Squash Association) event which can attract some of the top players in the world."
Mr Wu said that the earliest the Singapore Open could be staged is in 2015.
He is also looking at the possibility of staging an event at the new Sports Hub, with a glass court potentially being constructed in the middle of the national stadium field.
The SSRA is also planning to move its office from Tampines to the Kallang Squash Centre, which will also see upgrading works.
Among the changes, three more courts will be added to the current six and the work is expected to be completed before the 2015 SEA Games.