SINGAPORE: As a current player of Montfort Secondary School’s rugby team, student Ian Tan credits his current fitness levels and mental strength to the sport.
Having lost weight after hours of training outdoors, the formerly chubby boy is now a passionate player who represented his school at this year’s C Division competition.
In 2019, however, Montfort Secondary will completely cease their rugby programme as part of their co-curricular activity (CCA) offerings – a decision that was met with much derision from parents, players and alumni that Channel NewsAsia spoke to.
“We feel very sad as we put in a lot of effort to prepare for competitions, and just like that our principal decides to shut down rugby. When we play, we form a bond and I feel that we can’t learn this anywhere else,” said Ian, who is now in Secondary 2.
“We bleed for each other, and we cry for each other … we play our hearts out for every game. All our hard work will go to waste now because of this.”
Ian added: “We haven’t gotten a valid reason as to why the sport was phased out. We just want an answer so that we can understand what’s going on.
“When we play, we learn how to respect our opponents. It’s a gentleman’s game, a high contact sport where anything can happen. And after matches, we make friends with our opponents.
Despite numerous emails by parents, it is understood that the school has yet to give a reason for its decision to phase out rugby. Efforts to meet up with the school’s principal, Mark Gerard Minjoot, has also been unsuccessful, according to Ian’s father Adrian Tan.
“In my email to the principal, I CC-ed Minister Grace Fu, as I quoted her during an opening address for a rugby event in the past where she spoke about development of rugby. In addition, I also CC-ed my MP Lee Bee Wah, as well as a couple of parents,” said the 40-year-old Mr Tan, who is a project manager.
“I asked (Principal Minjoot) if he could provide clarification as to why rugby was dropped as a CCA in Montfort without any consultation or discussion with the players or parents.”
He added: “When the reply came, everyone in the CC list was not included. I felt it was a sneaky move by the principal not to do so.”
According to Tan, instead of a reply with a definitive reason for the school’s closure of rugby, he was pointed to his son’s attendance record.
“What angered me the most, was that his reply mentioned my son’s CCA attendance record stood at 80 per cent and it was indicated that his interest in the sport was waning,” said Tan. “The principal also said that he was absent from school after training dates.
“I felt that he was launching a personal attack on my boy, for my writing this email to him.
“I replied, if this was the case … then why only tell me now? Why was he so defensive, and use my boy to attack me?”
In an email reply to Channel NewsAsia’s queries, the school’s vice-principal Melvin Cheong said that the issue was “an internal matter” and that the school is “working with the students and parents to find a suitable resolution”.
DECLINED TO PUT REASONS IN WRITING
Another parent Mr Joseph Ong thinks the school is hiding its true reasons for axing the sport.
“The reason for closure was not given to us yet. I suspect it is something that they do not want to commit in writing, as it could be that their rugby results have not been good, so there’s no point investing in rugby anymore,” he said.
“I don’t think CCAs and sports should be all about winning; it is there for the development of the boys and not for the school to win trophies,” added Mr Ong, whose son Jarold is in Secondary 1.
“If the school wins, it’s good … if not, you are still developing the boys in terms of their character.”
Mr Ong added: “For boys, rugby is very good, as it is a sport that is very aggressive and it fits their need for physical activity. It encourages them to think how to move when the going gets tough, safety, and how to win games.
“When they go to national service, they would have already gotten used to physical exertion and tough training under the sun. Most would be suited for leadership roles as well in the army.”
As an alumnus of Montfort Secondary, Singapore national rugby captain Gaspar Tan owes his current playing career to his formative days at the school. On Wednesday (Nov 15), Tan captained the country to victory against India at a Division II game in Taiwan.
He insists that the school’s unilateral decision to close down the sport is unfair to its 20-year legacy in Montfort’s history.
“The school pointed out that injuries have increased, but when the question was turned around to what the school had done to support the kids for the past three years, they chose not to answer it,” said Mr Tan, who is also the school’s rugby coach.
He added: “It felt like it was more of a plan to phase out the sport, and that is the perception that the principal seems to be giving us.
“Also, they had encouraged the students to join external clubs if they wanted to continue playing. This actually, does not tally with the school’s reply that the sport causes injuries.
“There is also risk of getting injured when they play for clubs as well. What is the school trying to say?” said the 29-year-old Mr Tan.
“The school also said in email replies that parents have agreed to the closure. In fact, the parents are in a WhatsApp chat group and all of them do not agree to it.”
PETITION TO SAVE RUGBY AT MONTFORT
The school’s decision to cease rugby as a CCA has led to a petition online by its alumni Low Feng Hua, who was a national captain at under-23 level.
“I asked the parents if I started a petition, would they support me? They agreed and so I started it,” said Mr Low. “The school is not giving us any support, it makes us unhappy and so I had to do it.”
“The school needs to improve on their communication, as it works both ways. They should communicate to us their reasons so that we can work out a solution, instead of what they are doing now – of shutting us all out of the decision-making process,” he said.
Parent Adrian Tan is not optimistic that their voices to save MonTfort rugby would be heard by the school.
“No parent should be made to feel this kind of helplessness,” he said.
“We emailed the school, we asked and we pleaded but only to deaf ears. We are not confrontational people … we had no choice but to go online to petition.”
Mr Tan took issue with the way the school had been replying to his emails, and felt that their replies were not genuine.
“You don’t get to sign off on your email signature that you are a ‘Man for Others – A Scholar, Sportsman, Gentleman, Leader’ as you are none of the above,” said Mr Tan.
“The school motto is Age Quod Agis, Which means, ‘Do well in whatever you do’. However, it seems to me that it has now changed to ‘Give up if you cannot make it’.”