by Nicolette Mok
Football five-a-side athlete Melvinder Singh wants Singaporeans to come together, in spite of their differences.
Melvinder Singh might suffer from a partial visual impairment, but he has played on regular sports teams all his life, and has never interacted with other persons with disabilities – until now.
A member of Team Singapore’s newly formed football five-a-side squad, the 30-year-old has been training and establishing firm friendships with his teammates since August this year. He will be a part of the contingent representing the nation in December’s 8th ASEAN Para Games (APG).
Active in both segments of a society that admittedly isn’t completely cohesive, Melvinder took the time to share his aspirations for a better level of integration between the able-bodied and persons with disabilities.
Having played recreational football and floorball, as well as competitive hockey at school and club levels, the avid athlete’s foray into para sports certainly places him in an ideal position to bridge the gap between the two sporting communities.
Fittingly, football five-a-side for the visually impaired is a game that reflects assimilation, and each team must consist of four visually impaired outfielders – all donning equalising eye shades – as well as an able-bodied and sighted goalkeeper.
Melvinder’s condition - retinitis pigmentosa - has placed a limit on how far ahead he can see. Nonetheless, playing a sport while essentially blindfolded was a completely new experience to him.
“We have to listen out for the ball, which will be equipped with metal bells. Of course, we also need the stamina, skills, and concentration too. During the game itself, the court will be quiet, and spectators aren’t allowed to talk. The only sounds will come from our coaches, the balls, and our teammates. We shout to communicate,” he explained.
“It’s difficult playing to my full potential while blindfolded. My speed of running is affected, because I’m always afraid that I’d knock into obstacles in my path. When we first started out, we ran into each other quite regularly!”
Yet, these problems have not stopped him from enjoying the sport and even introducing it to other able-bodied sports enthusiasts.
“I’ve showed people videos of it and they actually expressed interest in playing while blindfolded too! It’s very interesting, and anyone can try it. All you need is to concentrate and communicate well,” added the versatile individual, who also dabbles in bhangra dancing.
Melvinder is keen to work towards integration not just on personal and social levels, but professionally as well. The entrepreneur, who founded BizHealth, a firm that specialises in workplace health programmes and consultancy, also hopes to raise awareness of the employment struggles that persons with disabilities face.
“I want to help more persons with disabilities to become productively employed. It’s hard for us to get a job, and that can be very demoralising. It does appear, sometimes, that education is secondary to being physically able,” he noted.
“I’d like to engage other companies and encourage them to be more open to employing persons with disabilities. I deal with a lot of clients at work, especially HR people. I try my best to show them that persons with disabilities have as much potential as everyone else.”
For now, however, Melvinder’s main focus is furthering his cause through the upcoming APG.
“The APG has been going on for many years, but many still don’t know about it. This year’s [Games] will be an eye-opener for Singapore, especially for persons with disabilities,” he said.
“Hopefully, they’ll realise that there are many opportunities for them to fulfil their sporting potential, and we can groom more para athletes for Singapore!”
Support Melvinder in his quest by cheering him on at the 8th ASEAN Para Games in Singapore this year, from 3 to 9 December!