Backing for PR, citizenship put on hold, says ministry By Peh Shing Huei NATIONAL sports associations intending to import talented foreigners have put plans on hold, following a surprise move by the sports ministry. There will be no approval for citizenship, permanent residence or employment passes for foreign-born sports talent until further notice - not until after this month, at least. Responding to a query from The Straits Times, the Ministry of Community Development and Sports (MCDS) said yesterday it wants to complete a review of the Foreign Sports Talent scheme, the main avenue through which associations attract foreigners. The scheme was endorsed by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong five years ago. The ministry said in its brief e-mail: 'MCDS and the Singapore Sports Council target to complete the review of the policy on foreign athletes by end-November. 'During this review, we are holding off supporting foreign athlete applications so that we can have a fair and transparent approval process for all future applications.' The sports fraternity was surprised because last month alone, the ministry backed 12 foreign athletes' applications for citizenship after initially rejecting nine of them. The 12 aree two shot-putters, six basketballers, a table tennis player, a footballer, a water polo player and a chess grandmaster. Their wait for citizenship ranged from under two years for footballer Agu Casmir, who came from Nigeria, to five years for China-born table tennis player Xu Yan. The sports associations have balked at the long wait for citizenship, because the athletes cannot participate in major international events. There is also the risk of athletes being poached by other countries or returning home, as was the case with China hammer thrower Wang Dan. Said Singapore Amateur Athletic Association president Loh Lin Kok: 'Last month, they were suddenly giving citizenships to everybody. And now they're changing their minds?' The ministry declined to reveal the number of athletes affected by the temporary freeze. But The Straits Times learnt that the Singapore Table Tennis Association has had three applications for PR and four for employment passes rejected. The Singapore Badminton Association's bid for an employment pass for a female shuttler has also been denied. The Football Association of Singapore is also known to be on the lookout for more foreign talent. Said Mr Loh: 'Athletics can easily accommodate more foreign talent. But I'm frightened. I don't know when they will change their minds again.' Since its 1993 launch under the Project Rainbow name, the foreign talent scheme has reaped results. For example, at last year's Commonwealth Games, foreign talent helped clinch all of Singapore's 12 medals - the Republic's best showing in the Games. Some in the sports fraternity are concerned the ministry review may bring bad news, as in some curtailing of the talent to be imported. One sports official said: 'Please just tell us 'yes' or 'no' to foreign talent. We're confused.' However, Netball Singapore president Ivy Singh-Lim is not worried about fewer foreigners being allowed in, if it comes to that. She said: 'I'm not against foreigners, but what's the point of imported glory?' she asked.