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Not a typical Saturday night

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Deputy Prime Minister Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam (right most) joined in the festivities at the launch of Saturday Night Lights, the launch of a football program by SportCares (photo by VOXSPORTS).

With a name similar to that of a lighting festival in Orchard Road, Saturday Night Lights is something of a greater vision. A football program launched by SportCares1, the Saturday Night Lights program aims to reach out to underprivileged or at-risk youths, hoping to impact and change lives through sports. The youths involved in the program are aged between 12 to 20 years old, and come from Beacon of Life Football Academy (BOLA), Henderson Free Kicks Programme, and Delta League from Jurong Springs.

The official launch of this program took place at Jurong Stadium, with guest-of-honour Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam. Starting off with a mixed percussion performance for the guests, the festivities were followed by an address from Mr Shanmugaratnam. He proceeded to take a tour of the event while the youths proceeded with their regular regime – one that they have been keeping to the past 8 weeks.

The youths broke up into their teams and started with their strength and conditioning training. After the intensive training and warm-up routines, the youths played 2 short matches, with Mr Shanmugaratnam officiating the coin toss and blowing the starting whistle.

Besides having the Deputy Prime Minister officiate the coin toss, the boys also had Yazeen Buhari as referee. He had refereed for various notable soccer events here, such as the S-League, Prime League, and Singapore League Cup. Ravi Maan, the stadium announcer for the Lions XII, graced the event as well by announcing the starting line-ups for the matches. The boys certainly had the superstar treatment.

In Saturday Night Lights, the emphasis is not on winning, but rather on sportsmanship. It was evident from the way the boys had played that there was no hostility between them, and players helped each other up whenever someone fell. Apart from encouraging fair play and positive attitudes, the program also offers the families of these youths an avenue to bond. Family members of the players could be observed yelling cheers of support for the teams.

Mr Shanmugaratnam met the boys during the pilot stages of the program when the boys were awestruck by the presence of such an important figure. He was proud to see how the boys had progressed from casual street soccer players to regular disciplined football players. It was also observed that the school attendance of these boys had improved as well. “It’s the discipline that feeds into other areas as well,” says Mr Shanmugaratnam.

Reeve Ingkiriwang, a volunteer at the event, shared his views, “Programs like these are really beneficial to the community as it reaches out to the needy.” The program not only allows him to play soccer, which is a sport that he loves, but also gives him a chance to help out these boys as he acts like a big brother to them.

Referee Yazeen Buhari adds, “If you look around, there are people from all walks of life involved in this program. It’s not only these boys playing football. There are family members, friends and ministers who believe that this program will work.”

Mark Richmond, who hosted the event, feels that such programs could potentially help to build sporting champions. “They have the extra drive to want to become champions. With some professional coaching and assistance, I think they’ll achieve something very special.”

1. SportCares is a social initiative by Singapore Sports Council that aims to encourage social good through sports participation.
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