Ng Ser Miang: 'Sports deeply entrenched as a national priority'

SINGAPORE - In part 2 of this Supper Club interview, veteran sports administrator Ng Ser Miang talks about his hopes of grooming the next generation of Singaporeans to take on positions in international sports bodies, and the views of political leaders towards sports.

Q: Some said that a bid to head a major international sports body like the IOC by someone from a small country like Singapore will always be a pipe dream. What are your thoughts?

We hosted the 2005 IOC session, we won the right to host the inaugural 2010 Youth Olympic Games (YOG), and earlier this year we hosted the IOC Athletes' Commission. So Singapore is growing in strength, in terms of sporting power internationally.

Yes it's always a dream. We dreamed about the YOG, some said we couldn't win as we were up against Moscow. It's definitely difficult, but not impossible. And if you don't try, then you will never know.

If you try, you can pass the knowledge to the next generation. I'm quite sure someday Singapore would have someone holding very high ranks.

Q: Singapore might be punching above its weight in the international sporting arena in terms of events. Still, when you canvassed for votes, did you find that you had a tougher job convincing the IOC members, as compared to someone from a larger country?

Singapore is a small country but at the same time also well-respected. We now have a reputation and status that we're reliable, efficient, intelligent, capable. Being Singaporean is not a handicap now.

Our fight against corruption has given us a very strong reputation as well. So I don't think that (our size) is such a big disadvantage. But obviously we're still a small country. Our influence worldwide is not big. Those are facts.

Q: What are some useful lessons that you would pass on for Singaporeans involved in international lobbying, and those gunning for international posts?

My advice is always to work hard, learn as much as you can, make as many friends as you can. Because at the end of the day, this is about relationships and friendships, in addition to what you are capable of. And really to invest in time, to know people and build relationships, and understand others.

That's what Singapore needs in every sphere and endeavour.

Q: What's next for you in IOC and Singapore sport?

For IOC, I can serve as a member till I'm 80, so 16 more years. But I want to try to groom a Singaporean who can take over at the IOC level, in 10 to 15 years. There's a few young people I have in mind but they will have their career and other things to look at.

People like (local sailing president) Ben Tan, (local fencing president) Nicholas Fang, (sailing official) Tan Wearn Haw, (swimming official) Mark Chay, (national shooter) Jasmine Ser, just to name a few.

Q: You've served as a sports administrator now for over 20 years, as Singapore Sports Council chairman and in other capacities. What keeps you going?

First of all, I'm still very young (laughs). And I believe in the power and value of sport, especially for young people. And the power of sport for nation-building and community bonding. It also helps me build relationships internationally.

My sports relationships have helped me a lot in my diplomatic work (as Singapore's Ambassador to Norway and previously Hungary). It opens doors easily.

Some heads of state I've met through the IOC, also senior politicians. I met the King of Norway through international sailing back in the 1980s. One of my IOC colleagues, Pal Schmitt, became president of Hungary.

Q: Since the 1990s, you've had close dealings and meetings with many senior politicians in Singapore through your role as a sports administrator. Over the years, what's your sense of how political leaders view sports as a priority, has this changed?

I would say over the years there's a definite trend and recognition that sports can play an important role. And you can see this build up over time. You can see more investment in sports. When I first became chairman of the sports council in the 1990s, we did not have a sports ministry.

Then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong started a sports ministry, then we had a sports minister. There was additional funding of $500 million to sports. You could see we had a focus on sports, sports became part of the national agenda.

The sports school was also built, and now we have a new sports hub. The word "sports" might have been taken out of the Ministry of Community, Culture and Youth (last year), but there's more funding, more support (compared to the past).Acting Minister Lawrence Wong promised increasing funding, he's delivered. So the emphasis is there. Sports is definitely deeply entrenched as one of the national priorities.

Q: You were a former Nominated Member of Parliament. Singapore is going through social changes, citizens are speaking up more, the electorate seems more divisive. What is one thing about Singapore's future that worries you?

We're in the Internet age where things move faster and faster. You expect replies almost instantly, reaction time becomes shorter and shorter. There's no time to pause, reflect, and to appreciate.

My concern is that Singaporeans are less appreciative of what we have now. When I travel around, I hear people praising Singapore. But for us we tend to take it for granted, we're not happy with this, we're not happy with that.

To me, that is the biggest challenge - that we should celebrate what we have. We should feel proud and positive about Singapore, celebrate our achievements, and yet say we want to achieve more.

Q: Can sports play a role in triggering these feelings?

Sports can be a powerful tool to bond the community and build national pride when our athletes do well at competitions.

It can also help project a country's image, through big multi-sport events, such as our hosting of the 2015 SEA Games (the same year Singapore celebrates its 50th birthday). That is significant, it will showcase the Sports Hub.

Q: What sports or activities do you do now?

Golf about once a month. Yoga and taiji too. I'm supposed to do taiji everyday but I've been doing it on and off only.

Gym too, so I can go back to skiing again. I burst a ligament in my right knee and had to go through rehabilitation two years ago while in Innsbruck skiing.

Q: What's your most treasured possession in your house?

My bed. It's where I sleep and rest.

Q: What was the last book you read?

Shadow of the Wind (a novel by Spaniard Carlos Ruiz Zafón). Mostly fiction. I sometimes re-read some Chinese literature like Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Read part 1 of the interview here.

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