Let's back local sport

If you believe some of the figures being thrown about, then one is a deal worth anywhere between $10 million and $15 million a year, for two years.

The other agreement is worth $100,000 for three years.

Singapore Airlines' (SIA) decision to become the title sponsor of Formula 1's Grand Prix along Marina Bay makes business sense, while Air Asia's deal with our athletic star Mok Ying Ren provides a fillip for the doctor chasing a dream to become the first marathoner from the Republic to represent the country at the Olympics in Rio 2016.

The announcement by AirAsia yesterday was welcome news for the reigning South-east Asia (SEA) Games champion, and the Malaysian company's policy to support athletes from the ASEAN region must be applauded.

While SIA surely feels it can leverage on the status of the Singapore GP as a huge worldwide hit, I struggle to think how the Malaysian carrier will benefit commercially from its deal, especially when Mok (above) is hardly a big-name star who can suddenly influence a considerable number of travellers to choose to fly AirAsia.

The Malaysian carrier's move once again raises the question why so many Singapore companies and corporations continue to stay away from backing local sport, or supporting the Republic's individual athletes and teams.

I still don't see Tao Li in TV commercials, two-time Olympic medallist Feng Tianwei does not feature on giant billboards and young, talented football stars Hariss Harun and Safuwan Baharudin have yet to become frontmen for any advertising campaigns.

The Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) have worked hard to woo sponsors and Lee Bee Wah and her team have managed to secure a few backers as they look to continue to maintain the world-class stature of the sport.

But, even after claiming one silver at the 2008 Beijing Games and two bronze medals at the 2012 London Olympics, and causing the biggest upset in sport in 2010 - the women's team beat mighty China in the world championships - Singapore table tennis has yet to secure a blockbuster sponsorship deal.

In recent years, national sports associations (NSAs) have been urged by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth to come up with detailed blueprints to present to potential commercial backers, Sport Singapore (previously the Singapore Sports Council) has worked with some sports to produce a battleplan, but so many local companies continue to shun any serious marriage.

Money issues

Singapore GP Pte Ltd made the decision to approach SIA and Ong Beng Seng's team must be congratulated after successfully completing the deal, but they could rely on a world-class product that reaches a global TV audience of around 360 million, and has drawn a crowd of around 80,000 for every race in the city centre since 2008.

If it is only monetary returns that matter, then Singapore corporations are perhaps right to baulk at spending money on local sport. Most of the country's teams and athletes do not cause even a ripple on the world stage and it is a struggle to woo Singaporeans to catch a football match in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League.

But, sport used to be part of the country's DNA.

Thousands used to flock to rugby games at the Padang in the 1970s, throngs lined up to watch Canagasabai Kunalan duel with Mani Jegathesan in the 100m sprint, easily 100,000 turned up annually at Upper Thomson Road for the Singapore Grand Prix from the 1960s through to the early 70s, and Kallang roared as one seething, heaving mass behind marauding Lions in the Malaysia Cup.

For years Singapore has been working hard to revive its sporting culture.

The Government spent $75 million for the Singapore Sports School to come to life in 2004.

It signed a Public Private Partnership agreement with Singapore Sports Hub Pte Ltd to build and run the new National Stadium and other world-class arenas at Kallang, which will cost $1.3 billion.

SpexScholarships worth a total of $40m have been set aside for talented athletes to try and become winners.

Local companies should play their part and help.

Sport is a worthwhile endeavour and local corporate titans must get it.

It is rugged, it invigorates a nation and unites its people.

I predict local companies will be more than willing to back Singapore's effort to host the 28th SEA Games here next June. It is a national cause, after all, especially with the Republic also celebrating its 50th year of independence.

I hope their investment does not return to a trickle once the country moves into its 51st year.

This article was published on April 18 in The New Paper.

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