Singapore hoping SEA Games can inspire sporting legacy

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore is hoping spicy local rivalries at the Southeast Asian Games will prove far more appetising than the bland and expensive 2010 Youth Olympics as it bids once more to spark a sporting revolution.

The 28th SEA Games is the centrepiece of the city-state's 50th anniversary celebrations and a successful, inspiring event has taken on greater importance following the death of the country's founding father Lee Kuan Yew in March.

Lee's passing brought on a huge outpouring of grief among Singaporeans, with the country observing a lengthy period of mourning for a man who transformed the island from a colonial backwater to a clean, green global trade and financial centre.

But while local television and newspapers spent days eulogising the former prime minister's many achievements, global sporting success was glaringly absent.

Upon opening the former National Stadium in 1973, Lee famously said that Singapore should "not waste time going especially out of our way to produce gold medallists".

Times, though, and ambitions have changed.

Singapore is hoping the biennial multi-sports event, seen by many in the 11-nation ASEAN bloc as their Olympics, can help paint a positive image of sport in a country where parents rank academic success far higher than athletic prowess.

"One of the most important priorities at the SEA Games is to stage a good event of high standards that leaves behind a legacy for sports in Singapore," Minister for Culture Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said recently.

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

Singapore attempted a similar change by staging the inaugural Youth Games in 2010 but the event was regarded as a waste of money as the bill soared close to S$400 million (197 million pounds), more than three times over budget.


A sceptical public failed to fully embrace a new event they were told was going to be the next big thing. Some new facilities, like the Tampines Bike Park, have since closed.

An embarrassing row over food supplies for Olympic volunteers also provided a negative backdrop for a country which prides itself on being seen as one of the culinary capitals of the world.

The SEA Games, however, is something Singaporeans can resonate with and, more importantly, witness plenty of home success.

Organisers are doing all they can to keep locals engaged and onside in the run up to the June 5-16 event, which returns to Singapore for a fourth time after an 18-year gap.

Around half of the sports are free to attend, while 17 will be available online at no cost but perhaps more significant in technology-minded Singapore, a free app will allow fans to choose which cameras they can view events from.

The move is hoped will entice some sceptics to attend venues like the much maligned new National Stadium.

The arena, the centrepiece of Singapore's glittering $1 billion Sports Hub facility, has had a disappointing first year, with events cancelled because of the appalling state of the frequently re-laid pitch.

Another new playing surface will be put down for the athletics and football but if it proves to be the launching pad for a first Singaporean Olympic gold medal it, and the entire Games bill, will be deemed as money well spent.

(Editing by John O'Brien)

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