Football is special

He fondly remembered the days when crowds fought to get into the old National Stadium to lend their voices to the cause of the Lions, as the likes of the late Dollah Kassim, Quah Kim Song, Terry Pathmanathan and Fandi Ahmad prowled the green that was synonymous with the Singapore football team.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong recognises the special place football has in the hearts of Singaporeans.

But he refuses to offer a hint if Fandi and his eldest son, Irfan, would be given the honour to light the cauldron to open the 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games on June 5.

"I know who the person is, but I don't want to dictate too much what organisers should or should not do. Delivering a good show means taking care of all aspects, including the person lighting the cauldron," Wong told the media on Tuesday.

"Whether or not they'll change (the decision on who lights the cauldron) is up to them - they have updated me to this point... but between now and the SEA Games, anything can happen."

Even if a footballer does not light the cauldron, the importance of the sport at this SEA Games was not lost on Wong, who responded with an emphatic: "Of course" when asked if a first football gold would add gloss to the hosts' eventual haul.

"Of course (football has a special place for us). Everybody who's old enough remembers this, we had the Malaysia Cup and we went to the stadium, it was enjoyable, we cheered and there was something special about coming together for that kind of an experience," he said.


"There is something about team sports that is different from individual sports, in the sense that team sports... get more of a live audience going.

"And it can be a fun, enjoyable, and a very memorable experience, and we're trying to refresh that culture, to get people to feel the difference (of watching a sporting event live)."

In a bid to help create a vibrant environment at football games, Wong has met various fan groups in the country, encouraging them to cheer as one united front.

"We all have a particular interest in football... I've even met the fan clubs... asked them to come together and cheer together, setting aside their differences, whatever they may be, and cheer together as Team Singapore," he revealed.

He said the aim is to give the Singapore Under-23 team "as much of a chance to succeed as possible".

Wong is aware that Aide Iskandar's team have endured some tough results over the last few months. The team, including 17-year-old Irfan, are in centralised training in Japan before their opening Group A encounter on June 1 against the Philippines at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

The target is to get to the final, and the boys continue to believe their can win the gold.

Wong said: "They feel the criticism and know that they have not been performing as well in the training matches in the lead-up to the SEA Games. They understand that there are high stakes, too.

"I do sense from them that, despite the setbacks they have experienced, they are not daunted and they are not overcome by adversity," said Wong.

"But they are taking it in their stride and they are determined to work together.

"They are focused on doing everything they can to prepare for the competition. We are doing whatever we can to support them, like giving them a dedicated pitch to train and giving the boys in National Service time-off to train as a team."

This article was first published on May 14, 2015.
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