Thursday, February 9, 2017

Part 1: A look at Amateur & Pro Boxing in the early days of Singapore

Reading Straits Times' 13th January article about the upcoming boxing event - The Roar of Singapore - got me intrigued, especially by this line uttered by Mr Syed Kadir, President of the Singapore Amateur Boxing Association (SABA):

"Singapore used to be a Mecca for boxing in the 1950s & 60s, when boxers from across Asia came to Singapore to fight, and events at venues like the Gay World Stadium were held every month..."

Naturally, this got me excited about SABA and I went through my treasure trove of material/memorabilia and dug deeper.

Coupled with some research at the National Library and with the book "Singapore Olympians, as a basis to start on, I began writing and here is what I have so far...

P.S: Those keen to read and know about the Feb 17 boxing event, read the full ST article here:

Singapore - A "Mecca" of Boxing

Thanks to British rule from 1819 to 1959, Singapore is blessed in many ways. Indeed we have the Brits and their love of sport, to thank for introducing us, the local population, to football, rugby, cricket, hockey and boxing.

Boxing first emerged in Singapore, during the post World War I period, in the 1920s, with SABA - the national controlling body for amateur boxing - being founded in 1927.

The original crest of SABA

A SABA Score Sheet from the 1960s

Canon R.K.S. Adams - then Principal of St Andrew's School - was the main proponent of the "gentleman's" sport and encouraged the Saints (students of SAS) to take up boxing for "discipline and manliness".

The school crest of 
St Andrew's School, Singapore

Principal R.K.S Adams circa 1960s

The jovial Australian was a big believer of sports and was known in local sporting circles as the "fighting padre", for his penchant for boxing.

Principal Adams lead the charge to set up an amateur inter-school boxing championships in the 1930s, which allowed for an avenue for the student boxers to pit their skills against one another.

All this, despite the hullabaloo that boxing  was considered a "dangerous" sport by many parents and some officials from the Ministry.

Truthfully, there were no injuries reported by the Medical Officers in charge of the inter-school tournaments, not of any kind during the 30 years of inter-school competions from the late 30s to the early 70s.

Professional Boxing in Singapore

Professional boxing attracted much fanfare in the 1930s and in the period after World War II.

Happy World Stadium (renamed Gay World in 1965) hosted many bouts with winners walking away with $35 per win (a big sum then, considering a bowl of noodles was between 3 to 5 cents)

The front gate of Happy World Stadium. Notice the Boxing tickets booth on the left.

A triumphant boxer at Gay World

Pre-bout photographs

1965 Tournament programme for 
bouts held at Gay World Stadium

However, professional boxing bouts began to die down by the mid to late 50s but the amateur bouts (contested by schools, the Uniformed Services and community clubs) continued strongly. In fact, students and alumni of SJI and Marist Stella High regularly vied with St Andrew's for the various boxing crowns on offer by the many amateur competitions.

Stay tuned for my next post on boxing where I throw the SPORTLIGHT on our boxing luminaries, including 3 Olympian Boxers!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Basketball Association of Singapore and the Olympic & Asian Games

Singapore's 1956 Men's basketball team remains one of two team sports (the other being Waterpolo) that has ever represented the Republic at the highest level of sports - the Olympic Games.

The Singapore Amateur Basketball Federation (SABF) Men's team represented the colony state at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne. Although it would not be three years till self-government and 9 years before Singapore's full independence, the cagers proudly played their hearts out for the Colony of Singapore.

Singapore contingent pin
for the 1956 Melbourne Games

Grouped with France, USSR & Canada, the Singaporeans lost all three games, getting no closer than 27 points to the winning sides, in each game.

With these losses, Singapore entered the quarter-final round amongst the lower seven teams - Republic of China, Australia & Thailand. Of these, the cagers could only beat Thailand 62-50. Afterwards, they went up against South Korea and triumphed 92-79, to be placed 13th overall.

Unfortunately, it was to be Singapore's first and last basketball appearance at an Olympic Games.

At the Asian Games, Singapore Basketball has fared better, with the cagers qualifying for the 1954, 1958, 1962 & 1970 Asian Games, with a best position of 5th overall, achieved in 1958.

Headshot of the 1970 Team Asst Coach

1970 Asian Games Basketball 
Team Souvenir Programme, Commemorative Medal &
Ribbon pin belonging to 
Asst. Coach Ong Ting Shayn

Closeup of the Ribbon pin

Domestically, with governent support and Goh Chye Hin's SCAAF leading the charge, basketball was actively played at the annual "Pesta Sukan" or "Festival of Sports" that was instituted, to build inter-community bonds between the various racial groups, in the wake of the deadly 1964 Racial Riots in Singapore.

Basketball Memorabilia from the 1960s

By then, the SABF was renamed Basketball Association of Singapore (BAS) and even though Goh Chye Hin had stepped down, he remained Patron of the Association, dishing out advice and guidance to the ExCo.

1970, saw direct government involvement in BAS, when Minister Jek Yuen Thong was elected President of the Association. This direct involvement by the government has largely continued till present day, with current BAS President, being a former Member of Parliament.

Basketball in Singapore enjoys tremendous support from the Chinese community, with a smattering of Indians playing the sport as well.

However, there is very few Malay representation in the sport, which is a pity as 17% of the population of Singapore is made up of the Malay community. This represents an untapped resource, given Singapore's small population.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The History of Basketball in Singapore & Malaysia

Without a doubt, Basketball is a team sport enjoyed by many people around the world... But how many of us know how basketball got started in Malaysia & Singapore?

As we all know, Malaysia & Singapore share many ties of kinship and from 1963 to 1965, were even one country.

Hence, this post pays tribute to the common history and the subsequent development of basketball in Malaysia (Malaya) & Singapore, so that we may be able to honour the past.

Origins of The Game

Basketball dates back to 1891 and the international YMCA training school in Boston, where Dr James Naismith first devised the sport as an indoor game, suitable to be played during the winter months. The first ever game was played with a soccer ball and two raised peach baskets used as goals.

The Fédération Internationale de Basketball (FIBA) was founded in Geneva, Switzerland in 1932 and it became an Olympic sport, at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.

But 24 years before that - in 1912 -basketball was already played competitively at the Far East Athletic Championship Games (FEA) - the predecessor of the modern day Asian Games - as the sport had been brought to Asia (Philippines, Japan & China) by American missionaries.

Basketball arrives in Malaya & Singapore

Malaya & Singapore circa 1920s

Interestingly, Basketball was introduced to the Chinese schools in the early 1920s, by teachers from China. It became even more popular when university and club teams from China & Hong Kong began to play regular exhibition matches throughout Malaya in the 1930s and in no time, it became one of the most popular sports amongst the sizeable Chinese community.

Local Development

Throughout the 1930s and for many decades after, one man relentlessly promoted basketball amongst the local Chinese, primarily via the Singapore Chinese Amateur Athletic Federation (SCAAF), a sports body sponsored by all the Chinese dialect associations in Singapore.

Goh Chye Hin (吳再興) was born in Singapore and had his primary education at Tao Nan School. His father sent him to Amoy, China for studies at Chip Bee High School and then at Amoy University. His sporting prowess showed early, as he represented Fujian province and then China in athletics competitions, winning a string of medals.

After the war, he was president of the Singapore Amateur Basketball Federation (the precursor to the Basketball Association of Singapore) for many years till 1967, and even after he stepped down he was closely associated with the sport till his death in 1984. During his tenure as chairman, he established links with many foreign basketball associations.

Post World War 2, many prestigious Asian level tournaments were held at Gay World Indoor Stadium (Singapore), including the hosting of the 1948 China Olympic basketball team, which included a lanky Singapore-born Wee Tian Siak. The 18 year old was later the flag bearer for the China team, at the 1948 Olympics in London.

1961 Orient Cup Tournament Pin

In 1961, the SABF organised the highly competitive Orient Year Cup, which attracted 15 teams from across South East Asia. Singapore beat the Manila Black & Whites to lift the trophy.

Across the Causeway, the Malayan Amateur Basketball Association (MABA) organised the inaugural Agong's Cup National Basketball Championship in Kuala Lumpur, 1958.

7th Agong Cup Tournament pin

Notice the tournament pin 
above Mr Lee Kuan Yew's breast pocket

This tournament has since grown to become the most significant basketball tournament in Malaysia, for both men & women, with state teams competing annually to determine the national champion.

Singapore hosted the 1964 edition, with the then Premier Lee Kuan Yew, as Guest of Honour.

But many did not know that it was originally supposed to be hosted by SABF from August 9 to 18 but were postponed to December 1964 because of the deadly racial riots that occured on 21 July 1964. This is also why Singaporean celebrate "Racial Harmony" Day on that day.

Here is a newspaper clipping:

Major International Tournaments Hosted

Tournament Pin belonging to
MABA President, Mr Quek Kai Dong

Malaya was among the seven teams that participated in the inaugural men's Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) Championships and would later become hosts in 1965, 1977 & 1985.

Note: The ABC is now known as FIBA Asia

Malaysia would also play host to the Asian Women's Basketball (AWB) Championships, starting from 1978.

The hosting of the ABC & AWB Championships were a very effective way to promote the game, in Malaysia.

Major Achievements

Since 1977, when basketball was first contested at the South East Asia (SEA) Games, the Malaysian women's team has struck gold at the biennial SEA Games 13 times, including an unbroken golden stretch from 1977 to 1989. Singapore's women's team have a record of 1 Silver (2003) & 2 Bronzes.

As for the male teams, Malaysia has a record of 1 Gold (1989), 7 Silver & 5 Bronze, as of the 2015 SEA Games. Singapore, on the other hand, were bronze medallists in 1979, 2013 & 2015.

Both the male & female teams will return for battle, when Kuala Lumpur hosts the 29th SEA Games from August 19 to 31 2017.

Stay Tuned: More posts on Basketball to come!

Pic Credits: National Archives Singapore

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Finding "Treasure" - What happens next?

For those of you who emailed me with your best wishes, thank you so much! Just doing my part to help chronicle part of Singapore's sporting history... #lestweforget

Some of you have also asked - "What do you usually do when you find a piece of  sports memorabilia?"

I'm not a trained curator and neither have I gone through a course on artefact research and preservation but here is what I usually do, when I find "treasure", which I like to call these pieces of Singapore's sporting history...

Step 1: Give the artefact a once through, a 360 degree visual check. Is it carrying fleas? (Important question!)

Looks pristine and well kept!

Step 2: Look for anything that may give an indication of which era it is from. In this case, the jacket patch clearly states that it is from the 9th SEA Games in 1977.

Note any variations (you might need to see a few examples of jacket patches before you learn to recognise any variation)

Step 3: Look for anything that may tell you the identity of the wearer/owner... Not an easy task! Failing which, look for the Tailor's mark...

In this case "211" may be the key 
to the identity of the owner. 
Check if Tailor still exists!

Update: SAINT the Gents Tailor, has been found at Katong Shopping Centre! Will be heading there tomorrow, to try and trace the identity of the owner of this jacket. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

SG51 Feature by TODAY Newspaper

Deeply honoured to be featured by TODAY Sports, on the occasion of our Nation's 51st birthday!

Full page print story in 
TODAY Newspaper
 10th August 2016

Yes! I'm Zee and I am passionate about our nation's rich sporting history. Singapore may be relatively young, compared to the rest of ASEAN & the world, but we have come a long way!

From Badminton stalwarts Wong Peng Soon & Ong Poh Lim clinching the Thomas Cup in 1949, to Neo Chwee Kok flying our flag high at the inaugural 1951 Asian Games & the 1952 Helsinki Games and to Legend Tan Howe Liang lifting Singapore to a silver lining at the 1960 Rome Olympics, there is much to be proud about... #redwhite #OurTeamSG

I'm really keen to help your organization rediscover & honour its illustrious past, so that you can fully appreciate the present and future! Contact me at

To see what I have done, in collaboration with the Singapore Swimming Association in April 2016, click here:

Monday, August 8, 2016

SG51 Post - Remembering LKY (Father of Modern Singapore)

On the eve of our nation's 51st birthday, let us take some time to remember our founding Prime Minister - Mr Lee Kuan Yew - without whom there will not be the Singapore that we are all so proud to call home...

Let's go back into time - some 50 years ago - and feel the stirring words of LKY...

Date: 5th February 1966
Location: Chinese Swimming Club
Background: Independent Singapore, less than a year old, had turned in a fine sporting performance at the 3rd SEAP Games held in December 1965.

11 year old swimming wonder, Pat Chan, on her SEAP Games debut swept 8 golds.

Pat Chan, Tay Chin Joo (SEAP Games' youngest gold medallist at 10 years old) and the rest of the swim team accounted for a lion's share of the (18 of 26) Gold Medals won by Singapore at the 3rd SEAP Games... Athletics won 3 Golds, Shooting 2 Golds, 1 each for Judo, Water polo & Weightlifting.

A fine start for independent Singapore!

Info-graphics courtesy 
of the Straits Times

"The very basis of our survival is politics; and sports is one of the ways in which you inculcate that physical discipline and stamina which alone can give you high performance... "
                                              -PM Lee Kuan Yew

His full speech
(Courtesy of National Archives of S'pore):

My small but growing collection
of LKY's thoughts about 
Merger & Separation (circa 1963-1965), printed by the then Ministry of Culture

Evergreen advice 
from Mr Lee Kuan Yew!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Pesta Sukan - Predecessor of the Singapore National Games

With the Singapore National Games (SNG) ongoing till 7 August 2016, in the lead up to our nation's 51st birthday, thought I should do an article on the origins of the SNG, in its original form.

Pesta Sukan, or “Sports Festival”, was the first festival of sports held in Singapore. The event took place from 4 to 21 December 1964.

Pin badge from the 1st edition 
of the Pesta Sukan in 1964.

The festival aimed to encourage higher standards and greater interest in sport as well as to promote racial harmony – significant in light of the communal riots that had taken place in July and September that year.

The festival was declared open by then Minister for Culture S Rajaratnam at Kong Hwa School on 4 December. Singapore was part of the Federation of Malaysia at the time and the festival, which involved some 2,000 sportsmen of whom 800 were from other parts of Malaysia including Sabah and Sarawak, helped to foster goodwill through friendly competition.

The festival was sponsored by the Singapore government and supported by 25 voluntary sports organisations. Raffles Institution served as the games village to house the visiting sportsmen. The programme included athletics, basketball, boxing, chess, cricket, cycling, football, go-karting, golf, hockey, judo, motor-racing, polo, rugby, sepak-raga (or “sepak takraw” as it is more commonly known today), softball, swimming, table tennis, volleyball, weightlifting, wrestling and yachting.

The festival ended with a closing ceremony held at the Gay World Stadium on 21 December.

In 1965, Pesta Sukan came under the purview of the Ministry of Social Affairs. Held from 29 July to 9 August 1965, the second edition had an “international atmosphere” due to the participation of foreign teams from 11 other Asian countries.

After Singapore gained independence on 9 August 1965, Pesta Sukan became an annual feature of the National Day celebrations and was known as Pesta Sukan Minggu Merdeka (Sports Festival Week of Independence) from 1966 to 1969.The festival reverted to its original name thereafter.

An Official's badge from the 
1970 edition of Pesta Sukan

The 1970s saw the inclusion of activities geared towards family fun and mass participation such as a water carnival; national walk,  jog  and cycling events; and dragon boat races.

Basketball Tournament 
Participant's pin from
Pesta Sukan 1971

Souvenir programme from 
Pesta Sukan 1971 &
Official Opening of Sports House

Pesta Sukan Theme Song, 
composed by Zubir Said

Commemorative Bag from the 
1979 edition of Pesta Sukan