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You know, as you get older, you tend to want to talk more. To share with others, while you still have something worth listening to and while you still have the energy to verbalise your thoughts.

So a long post to come. If you have some time and are interested to read, pls go on.

How It All Started

It was Year 2000 in Adelaide, Australia. I was on a Student Exchange Programme at the University of Adelaide. Knowing Adelaide as the home of canoe polo, I wasted no time in getting myself acquainted with the locals and signing up in one of the local teams in their state league.

We played games in the Winter/Spring season in one of their indoor pools every Saturday. The season lasted for about 5 months. There were about 20 teams in all.

I noticed a group of players from different teams gathering in between their games for some discussion. But I didn't know what that was about.

Stumbling upon the Adelaide State Referee Course

After one of the games, one of the team managers told me a senior player was conducting a referee's course and asked if I was interested to join them. I said yes, why not? He told me they were in the lecture room at the other end of the pool. So I trooped over and found them about to end their last theory lesson. The conducting player, upon hearing my interest in the course, gave me a set of rules and told me to read it over the week. The theory test was next Saturday.

Throughout the week, I spent time reading the rules. This was my first time reading the rules though I have played polo for more than 2 years in Singapore already - the polo system in Singapore was not as established at that time.

I took the test that Saturday. It was a barrage of multiple choice questions, with each answer looking exactly like the other. By some stroke of luck, I passed the theory test.

So I went on to their practical sessions. These were conducted by two senior players. They were supposed to guide you throughout the practice games. But as it turned out, I had to survive most of those games by myself.

Several practical sessions and a few weeks later, I was told that I was a qualified Adelaide State Canoe Polo Referee. Which still is a big surprise up till today. I still have no idea how I did it.

Bringing Knowledge Back to Singapore

Year 2000 was the first time a Singaporean polo team travelled to Australia to take part in their Inter-Club games. Much credit goes to Jeremy, NUS captain at that time, for making that happen.

After the team got back to Singapore, we quickly got to sharing our new-found knowledge. The team re-organised its training methods and playing strategy. And Raymond Liow, as the only player who has some knowledge faintly acquainted with the rules, was tasked to help the team technically.

So I conducted the first rules course to NUS players in the old conference room in the Sports and Recreation Centre 2nd floor in Jan/Feb 2001.

First SCF Canoe Polo Rules Familiarisation Course

That same year, with the help of Chew Keat Yeow, we managed to get together a group of players from various organisations to attend the First Singapore Canoe Federation (SCF) Canoe Polo Rules Familiarisation Course. The system was still very raw and my knowledge of the rules was still very unpolished.

The pioneer group of referees were put to the test at the Nationals that year. Some of the names I can still recall include: Andrew Ng from TP, Jason Kho from NUS, De Pang from SP, Jack from NP. There were others but I can't recall, sorry... The Nationals were held at the then SMU Bt Timah Campus. For the first time as I knew it, there was some sense of law and order in a polo game in Singapore.

ICF Referee Accreditation

In Jan 2002, Team NUS pooled our resources and popped by Hong Kong to participate in the inaugural Asian Canoe Polo Championships.

I received a call from SCF asking if I was interested to take part in the ICF Referee Accreditation Course. I said yes. Together with Cheng Lin Chuan, I joined about 10 other participants from Asia in this course.

The first 2 days of the course sailed past like a breeze. Theory lessons plus good lunches. We had fun.

The ordeal started on the third day. We had to referee games in the Asian championships while the ICF assessors sat by to grade us. It was terribly nerve-wrecking as these were actual games between countries. Plus, Cheng and I were the only two referee trainees who doubled as players. The pressure gushed at us like the waters of Niagara Falls.

When you're thrown into the deep end, you learn to swim doubly quick. I guess Cheng and I were 'fortunate' to undergo the Baptism of Fire during that course. We learnt a tremendous lot from that course. And for that, we have to thank the wonderful trainers from Europe and Australia.

I had the fortune of refereeing the final game between Japan and Taiwan. These were the top teams in Asia and the stakes were terribly high. It was my first taste of officiating a game at such high level with players of such calibre.

I Made A Mistake

The atmosphere at the final game was electrifying. Fans were raving and screaming at the top of their lungs. You will never know how crazy these people were unless you were there.

It was hard to concentrate on refereeing.

In the dying minutes of the game, I made a mistake. I awarded a free shot when it should clearly have been a GPS. The player missed the shot. That cost Japan a chance to tie the score and allowed Taiwan to celebrate their victory.

Up till that point, I have never felt so bad in my entire polo lifespan. I apologised to the Japanese coach and Kenta Hoya, the captain, for my incompetence. But they displayed their professionalism by acknowledging Taiwan's strength during the game and warmly shook my hand.

Out of the 10 or so participants of the ICF Referee Accreditation Course, only 4 of us got accredited. Cheng and I were two of the lucky ones. A participant from Hong Kong and another from Taiwan made up the rest of the quartet. We were one of the first Asians to receive ICF Referee Accreditation.

There was a post-competition dinner at Jumbo Restaurant. ICF referee certificates, licence cards and jerseys were awarded at the dinner. While the other 3 newly-accredited referees received their items from the VIP proudly, I couldn't do the same. Images of the blunder at the finals stuck in my mind like a shadow. I averted the eyes of the Japanese players best as I could.

Encouragement from the CP Community

After I went on stage to receive my accolade, I caught the glance of Kenta Hoya. He gave me an affirmative smile and nod. That was one of the best encouragements I could ever receive. For the first time that evening, I could truly smile.

I made up my mind to learn from that mistake. The only way I could make up to Team Japan was to make sure that I do not repeat the mistake. I could feel the impact a referee had on a game. And I told myself to work hard on refereeing so that I can give back to the community which has supported me so strongly.

Naturally the Taiwanese players thanked me profusely for the good game. In particular, the Taiwanese coach Mr Liu Te-Chih also gave me a few words of encouragement.

First SCF CP Referee Accreditation Course

After our return, I worked with SCF to set up a referee structure. We worked out an assessment system and a referee grading system, both of which are still in use today.

The inaugural SCF CP Referee Accreditation Course was held in May 2002. We had about 15 participants - some of whom are still contributing actively to the Singapore CP community. These include Chad Ong, Andrew Ng of TP, Stanley of SP, etc.

These referees officiated at the Nationals, held at Kallang Basin Swimming Pool. This was also the first competition where members of the public formed part of the audience. Canoe Polo got plenty of air-time at that competition. In fact, if you were driving along PIE, you could have caught a glimpse of the games.

The referees worked hard. Inevitably, there were some disputes over the referees' calls but on the whole, I felt they did a tremendously good job. Kudos to the referees who braved the sun and contained their fatigue to officiate so brilliantly that year!

That year set the stage for canoe polo and refereeing in SG.

Next Asian Encounter

I had a pleasant surprise when SCF invited me to join the National Team for the Asian meet in Taiwan in 2003. I was to accompany the team as an official. The team was largely made up of SP guys. And it was during that trip when I got to know those crazy SP guys like, Jackie, Izwan, Jonathan, Simon, Jackson, etc, better.

It was no surprise that Taiwan was up against Japan for the finals again. By some chance, I was asked to referee this game. Needless to say, the Hong Kong incident was still haunting me. But I psyched myself up and accepted the challenge. I can't remember who won the finals. But there were no unhappy faces this time. Both captains and coaches approached me after the game to thank me for the hard work and good game.

You cannot imagine how relieved I was after that game. I felt like I had somewhat atoned my mistake in the earlier encounter.

Future Development of SG Canoe Polo Refereeing

We managed to get more courses going over the next few years. More referees joined the stable. They helped tremendously in the course of their duties.

Why I Decided To Be A Referee

Finally, I'm answering the question that prompted this long long post.

A few people have expressed surprise at how I'm still at it after all these years. I suppose I'm the longest serving referee in Singapore, having 5 years of experience under my belt, starting from my ICF accreditation in 2002.

So why do I do it?

The reason is simple actually - I love this game.

By conducting courses, training new referees and officiating at local competitions, I contribute to the Singapore polo community. And I enjoy giving back to the community because it has first given me many good friends and unimaginable loads of fun and laughter since I started playing in 1998.

If you think about it, we are Canoe Polo Singapore. Canoe Polo Singapore is us. If we do not step forward to help ourselves, who will? Without groups of people, who dutifully organise local competitions year in and out, who will the local teams pit their skills against?

I have heard many laments about how badly organised the competitions are, how lousy the referees are, how ugly the trophies look, how poorly scheduled the games are. The list goes on.

If you have a point to state and if you think you have good suggestions to improve things, please step forward.

I have tried to get players to step forward and contribute back to this sport we all love by signing up for the referee course. And many have done so. I hope they have enjoyed the process.

Signing up for the Referee Accreditation Course is excellent way for you to contribute to the community. Other ways include helping out during the competitions, joining the organising committee, etc. Regardless of your choice, it would be greatly appreciated. And you will know it when you see players enjoying themselves during a good game.

And that's because you made it possible.

So let's all do our small little part by helping out and contributing the community as best as we can. For if the Singapore Canoe Polo community does not help ourselves, nobody will.


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