MCCY Minister Wong hoping SEA Games will build a vibrant sporting culture

MCCY Minister Wong hoping SEA Games will build a vibrant sporting culture
GAMES FEVER: Fans turning out in full force at the Jalan Besar Stadium to cheer on the football team during the 2010 Youth Olympics.

The inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in 2010 was the last major multi-sport event to be hosted in the Republic.

It provided a major platform for young athletes across various sports to flourish, and gold medallists like Chad Le Clos of South Africa and Japanese paddler Koki Niwa have become big-time stars.

While the Tampines Bike Park built for the 2010 Games has closed down, and some national sports associations (NSAs) have failed to take off after the event, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Lawrence Wong, asserts that the net result of the Youth Olympics was positive.

Ahead of the 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games from June 5 to 16, Wong believes the return of the biennial event to Singapore after a 22-year absence will be an even greater boost as the country strives to rebuild its sporting culture.

Speaking to the media at his Hill Street office yesterday, he said that the Games has already presented a unique opportunity for Singaporeans.

SPARK

From corporate support to participation, viewership, volunteerism and, crucially, a higher standard of excellence in the sporting arena, Wong believes the flame has already been sparked into life.

"We think that the corporate partnership is critical. There are positive signs that many progressive organisations are starting to change their mindset to see the value that sports can bring to their organisations," he said.

And he pointed to the adoption of sports by banks, with DBS being associated with the dragon boat (DBS Marina Regatta), OCBC with its Cycle Singapore event, and the long-standing Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore.

Already 70 corporations have contributed $70 million in sponsorship for the Games, and Wong also paid tribute to companies like Deloitte who have hired athletes while also supporting their sporting ambitions.

"(The) SEA Games can have a catalytic effect, because it is not just about the companies but also the live attendance that we are trying to encourage Singaporeans to come and watch the Games."

"And hopefully it changes the culture," he added, revealing that a digital app to provide a better viewing experience, including a "second screen" to give audience a different view of the action unfolding in front of them, is being rolled out. With ticket sales already at about 70 per cent, it is a good sign that Singaporeans will come out to the venues.

"We must create a mindset shift that going to a live sporting event is something that people would want to do in their recreation time," he said, adding the signs are already positive.

"The typical pattern is that sales tend to peak closer to the actual date... in that sense, in terms of ticket sales for an event which is still three weeks away, (sales are) better than expected," said Wong.

While acknowledging that not everything that came out of the YOG was good, he pointed to the emergence of athletes, such as paddler Isabelle Li, who will also take part in next month's Games.

"We hope that athletes will do well and their experience at the SEA Games will inspire and motivate them to go even further in their sporting aspirations," said Wong, of the higher level competition at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.

But he declined to put a number on the gold medals he would like to see at the Games.

"Each one of them will reach a new peak in terms of training and up (his) game, achieve new records and achieve new personal bests. In the process, to also get medals for Singapore."

While the overarching hope is that Singaporeans will embrace sports, their willingness to participate is also a key priority.

Signs from outside the sporting arena suggest that it is not too far-fetched a dream.

A total of 17,000 people have already signed up to be volunteers at the Games and the overwhelming response points to a desire to take part in sports.

'PURPLE ARMY'

"They were known as the purple army at the YOG, and the volunteers will continue to wear purple (at the SEA Games)," said Wong.

"There is a lot of potential beyond the SEA Games, where we have these platforms such as ActiveSG and Singapore National Games (to take interest in sports) to a higher level."

While corporate involvement, and a spike in tourism will likely have positive economic effects, the SEA Games - which Wong asserts is on point with its $324.5 million budget - will be about Singapore's sporting culture.

He said: "One of the most important priority at the SEA Games is to stage a good event of high standards that leaves behind a legacy for sports in Singapore.

"Economic impact is not a major consideration for staging the Games, rather, we want it to further catalyse our sporting culture."

shamiro@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 14, 2015.
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