TAN YOON YIN
Singapore’s first lady of netball
When Tan Yoon Yin went to the Registry of Societies in 1962 to set up the Singapore Women’s Netball Association, the man who handled her application asked: “Do you think it will survive or not?” Yoon Yin replied: ““I don’t care. I’m trying.”
Netball Singapore, as it is now known, has not only survived; it has thrived. The association says netball is one of the fastest growing women’s sports in Singapore, with an estimated 80,000 active social and competitive members. This is largely thanks to the vision and sheer determination of Yoon Yin.
In 1950, Yoon Yin came to Singapore from Malaya to enrol at the Teachers Training College. A keen athlete who played national-level netball and hockey, she won a scholarship to study physical education at the University of Liverpool’s I.M. Marsh College of Physical Education for Ladies.
Returning to Singapore in 1957 she was seconded to the Education Ministry’s Physical Education Inspectorate. As she went about her duties, she noticed that people in Singapore, and especially schoolgirls and women, were not very active in sport.
She noticed also that there were no proper game rules and training facilities for netball and hockey, and decided that she should do something about it. She wanted to give girls something to look forward to after school and work, and that would help them develop friendships and learn to co-operate and care for each other.
In 1962, having secured the registration of the Singapore Women’s Netball Association, she had to tackle the challenge of finding the resources to get things moving. She managed to get 23 netball clubs to sign up as members of the association, and she used her own money to buy manuals on how to coach netball teams and umpire matches. She then started an umpiring course.
Recalling that first year of the netball association, she once said: “I was the coach, umpire, everything! You had to struggle so hard. Where could we get help at that time? I had to write to England to ask them to send us the netball rules.”
Speaking to the media in 2014, she said: “I don’t know how I did it, really. But I’m glad I showed the men I could do it.”
To keep the association afloat, Yoon Yin and her girls baked and sold cakes and biscuits to people who came to watch their matches. She organised tournaments which included wives of British soldiers stationed in Singapore, and tournaments with Malaysian teams. While she worked to develop netball as a sport, she was also active in hockey, serving the Singapore Women’s Hockey Association in various positions for many years.
She fought hard to make netball a recognised Extra Curricular Activities sport in the Education Ministry’s physical education curriculum. In 2014, she was honoured by the Ministry for her contributions in this area.
Yoon Yin led the netball association for its first four years and during that time laid the foundations for the sport’s strength in Singapore today. Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2012, Netball Singapore paid tribute to Yoon Yin for her pioneering efforts to promote netball as a widely accessible sport for girls.