Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Home support vital for Singapore’s SEA Games

By Nicholas Fang, Published TODAY, 9 Mar 2015

On Saturday night, a street party on Orchard Road brought sports and sportsmen right into the heart of Singapore. The One Team Singapore rally was organised to showcase some of the activities that will be carried out to raise awareness of the 28th SEA Games, which Singapore is hosting in June.

These include the Torch Up! community art initiative, which will see 30 art installations being created with help from various local community groups that will celebrate and share the SEA Games spirit with different segments of society.



The rally brought together thousands of Singaporeans, who turned out in red to show support for Team Singapore, and also involved national athletes in various activities and performances.

In the build-up to the Games, which kicks off in less than three months, generating more buzz, excitement and enthusiasm from the broader public will be a critical element of the host nation’s preparations.

Our nation has not hosted the Games since 1993. For the past 22 years, we have been enjoying the hospitality of our neighbours. Hosting the Games this year also has the added significance of it taking place during the Republic’s jubilee celebrations.

I had the opportunity to compete in four of the Games myself and appreciate the immensity of the operation to host thousands of athletes and the supporting entourages at the biennial event.

But host nations also enjoy an added edge — the much-vaunted home ground advantage, where local athletes compete in familiar venues and, of course, the majority of spectators and supporters are on their side.

This is where the organisers of this year’s event will have to focus on in the few months ahead — rallying and mobilising a Singaporean population that has traditionally not been the most enthusiastic when it comes to attending sporting events.

There will be 36 sports on offer in venues spread across the island. And once athlete selection is finalised next month, the Singapore contingent could potentially be the largest in recent memory. This is understandable for the host nation, but it will only be a true advantage if we can feel the power and passion of a whole nation worth of supporters.

When national shuttler Fu Mingtian contested the women’s badminton final at the 2011 SEA Games in Jakarta, much was written about her grit and determination in overcoming not only her Indonesian opponent, but the vociferous and intimidating home crowd that screamed and roared, and used deafening horns and clappers to rattle the Singaporean player.

She overcame all of these and a tough opponent to secure Singapore’s first gold in the women’s individual event at the SEA Games.

Even in victory, Fu was heckled by the Indonesian supporters who sang their own national anthem over the Majulah Singapura during the medal ceremony.

I think Team Singapore supporters can and will show better sportsmanship and graciousness, whether in victory or defeat. But that does not mean we cannot make sure our athletes know we are behind them every step of the way, no matter what the outcome.

Fu said of her experience in 2011: “The Indonesian supporters are very intimidating, but I did not let such external factors affect me. Thankfully, I also had the support of Singaporeans here who were cheering me on,” she said, referring to a small but vocal group of Singapore fans who were in Jakarta.

SELECTING THE BEST TEAM SINGAPORE

As we aim to establish ourselves as a true sporting nation, a passionate and educated fan base will be a crucial element, especially as more sporting events are brought to our shores.

The flipside of efforts to grow local support and attention for sports is that our athletes must be prepared to handle increased focus on them.

It is heartening to hear that some of them are up to the challenge. Amanda Lim, three-time SEA Games gold medallist in the blue-riband 50m freestyle event, said in a recent interview on The 5 Show that she does not see more attention as equating to more pressure.

“I know some people do and they feel more stress when they see more supporters in the stands. But for me, I am lifted up by such support and knowing that my friends and family are in the stands watching me,” said the lanky swimmer.

This will be her first home SEA Games, given that she was born the same year that Singapore previously hosted the event. But she has the benefit of having featured in the 2009 Asian Youth Games and 2010 Youth Olympic Games, both of which were held in Singapore.

While athletes put the finishing touches on their preparations to bring their performances to a peak come June, the local sporting authorities will also be busy in the weeks ahead. Besides the fine-tuning of the infrastructure and hardware at the competition venues, including the world-class Sports Hub, there is also the matter of finalising the selection of Team Singapore.

The onus is on the national sports associations, the Singapore National Olympic Council and Sport Singapore to ensure that the best Team Singapore is selected, in a fair manner that is open and transparent to all stakeholders involved.

Only then can we focus on delivering the best performance when the SEA Games comes round in June, after more than two decades.

The writer is a Chef de Mission for the Singapore contingent at the 28th South-east Asian Games taking place from June 5-16, 2015, in Singapore.





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