Singapore heads toward sports excellence

By Agnes Winarti

The Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) was the first to sign an agreement with the Sports School to ensure that promising student-athletes like Isabelle Li would be able to pursue a higher degree at the polytechnic and university.

"The ones who have done this are exceptional. But they are few and far between. The academic push has not helped developing young sportsmen. A choice has to be made. Only a few have succeeded in balancing both," former The Straits Times sports editor for 17 years Godfrey Robert commented on Singapore's highly competitive educational system.

"We also need to ensure the locals get more exposure. You can use all the foreign-born players for the major events, but leave the SEA Games for the locals," said Robert, as Singapore is currently gearing up for November's SEA Games here.

Singapore will also officially bid to host the 2015 SEA Games at the SEA Games Federation General Assembly in November. Hosting the 2015 SEA Games would mark the launch of Singapore's currently under-construction Sports Hub, targeted to be ready by April 2014, after a two-year halt due to the global financial downturn.

It might not be all smooth-sailing, but multi-pronged approaches are obviously under way in the country, which is hoping to establish itself not only as a first world economy but also as a first world sports power.

The "market" has always been the key factor in its national policies, sports not excluded.

"Looking at the Singapore sports scene, sports business is an offshoot of the sporting ambitions. It has to come in tandem with what the country is doing for sport in this new era," Robert said.

Since 2008, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Vivian Balakrishnan has made it clear that along with the government's commitment in supporting growth of the sports industry, private businesses are expected to be key players.

"The government is committed to growing a self-sustaining sports industry ecosystem that will contribute $2 billion in gross domestic product [GDP] and create 20,000 jobs by 2015," said Minister Balakrishnan in a 2008 speech as reported by www.ssc.gov.sg.

"What happen after athletes finish their sporting career? This is how the industry helps them. They will participate because after their athletic career is over they know they can do something else," said Yeo, citing various career avenues from coaching jobs to careers in the legal, medicine and marketing aspects of sports.

Late last year Singapore began to build the $1.87 billion Sports Hub, which is one of the world's largest state-private partnership projects for sports infrastructure development.

The Sports Hub is located on the 35-hectare site of the torn-down National Stadium in Kallang. The Hub is designed to be Singapore's premier sports, entertainment and lifestyle center.

It includes a 55,000-capacity national stadium with retractable roof, a 6,000-capacity indoor aquatics center, a 3,000-seater multi-purpose arena, a water sports center and 41,000 square meters of business, commercial and retail floor space, and the existing Singapore Indoor Stadium.

It is reported that the sports industry contributed around $1 billion to Singapore's GDP in 2008, when the international Formula One night race was first held on the island.

Thanks to last year's F1 race and the Youth Olympic Games, the Little Red Dot's travel and tourism sector was named the 10th most competitive out of 139 countries in the World Economic Forum report. The hosting of the Youth Olympic Games itself was supported by more than 700 business entities.

"It is about making sure that we can find objectives that are aligned with the corporates' objectives. If we can find that, the businesses will come naturally," said Yeo.

Within just one decade, it is obvious that Singapore has been raising awareness of sports among the young and businesspeople.

Long-term gains of these multi-pronged approaches are yet to be seen though. "We have seen small successes along the way, but only time will tell of how successful the entire strategy will be," said Yeo.

"Sports powerhouse countries such as the US and Australia have been very successful in cultivating their sports industry. There is a culture of sports that they have built up among their population. That is something that we are trying to do," said Yeo.

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