How did the sports boss get it so wrong?

467
Ng Ser Miang

By Tan Bah Bah

Ng Ser MiangThe failure of Ng Ser Miang to win the presidency of the International Olympic Committee, the most powerful position in international sport, was a fierce reality check. In more ways than one.

Sure, dare to dream. But there are also limits to what a small nation can do.  The local mainstream media tried to build up Ng as a leading contender against the other candidates, including Thomas Bach, the eventual winner with 49 votes to Ng’s six. The reality is that Ng, who was nearly eliminated in the first round of voting, was at least a lap away from being a contender.

After  the hooha, we want to ask: what was the whole thing all about, anyway?

One answer would be: Why not? The whole experience of the campaign is useful. We learn how to deal with powerful nations and powerful organisations and the way they work. We make new friends. We make ourselves known. We tell others who we are and we push the Singapore brand further and higher.

For a moment, we were up there with the big boys. We tried. But, as a Rolling Stones song puts it, “we can’t always get what we want…”  Even China could not get what it wanted. Beijing went all out to get the 2000 Summer Olympic Games which was valued because of its millennial landmark theme. The games went to Sydney instead.

Also, Ng was already one of the IOC vice-presidents, so going for the top post was just a logical follow-up step.

And Ng did beat Sergei Bubka (five votes only), the legendary multiple-gold-medal winning world and Olympic champion pole vaulter from Ukraine, a great sporting nation.

So what?: That would be the next question.  Was the spending of $300 million for the Youth Olympic Games 2010 part of the deal or game plan?

The questions should be answered as part of a wider picture – which was made clear by the IOC presidency race.

Were we so intense about getting the IOC post that we lost sight of who or what we are? Are we doing enough at home to shore up our place in this part of the world – before we take on the rest of the world?

The results of the IOC race must have an eye-opener.  Ng was supposed to be Asia’s man to succeed Jacques Rogge, or so we were told. Out of the 200 plus nations voting at the IOC Session, there were so many more Asian votes than six. Yet, only six gave their votes to Singapore. The voting was secret, of course. So we do not know exactly who voted for whom.

I do not wish to guess either.

But the small number of Yes votes makes it rather easier to analyse who did NOT vote for Singapore.

There are 10 members in Asean.  Maybe all the six IOC Yes votes came from Asean, maybe not. But the point is this: Not every Asean member voted for Singapore, a fellow Asean member. So much for Asean unity.

I have grave doubts that China with whom we claim so much special relationship voted for us. Australia, our good friend? Nah. USA? I think not. Good old Britain who were so excited to be awarded the 2012 Olympic Games when the announcement was made in Singapore? Good try.

What I do know is that it is time to do two things.

First, have we been alienating ourselves from our neighbours in this part of the world?  If Singaporeans – and their government – do not care to cultivate generations who can speak the language to connect with, say, Indonesians and Malaysians, why should they care about us?

The second affects our ambitions to be a better sporting nation. Let us relook our whole sporting strategy.

The development of sports should not be in the hands of bureaucrats who have not the slightest idea of what the excitement of sports is all about. These bureaucrats can help to run the show but the final decisions, the overall feel of what are the right steps to take, must come from people who have always have a passion for sports. We have these people. Let them play a bigger role. We  desperately need a Lord Sebastian Coe – or an Edward Barker.

Tan Bah Bah is a retired journalist. He was a senior leader writer/ columnist with The Straits Times and managing editor of a local magazine company.