Sports Hub … and here is the rub

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Sports Hub

Ser Luck will not score the goals. You have to make the Hub something special, something unique by holding a mini-World Cup

By Michael Y.P. Ang

Before we get overly excited about the spanking new Sports Hub and what the mainstream media have been hyping as “a new era in Singapore sports” and Singapore coming “alive as a sports hub”, let us pause and ponder for a moment.

Does the Sports Hub possess anything special which the government could rely on to build a thriving Singaporean sports culture? Which country has ever successfully transformed itself into a sporting nation after it has built a collection of sports facilities within a small area?

Other than new and more comfortable seats, its centrepiece (the new National Stadium) represents no real improvement. Its 55,000 capacity is the same as the one built in the early 1970s, when Singapore’s population was much smaller.

This makes the authorities’ confidence in driving sports spectatorship, which is one target of the government’s Vision 2030 sports development plan, looks shaky at best.

One may say that the new stadium will have the world’s biggest dome roof. So what? Do we really expect this bit of trivia to have any significance in sports development?

Already, due to Singapore’s size, there are doubts about whether the water-sports centre at the 35-hectare Kallang Basin is equipped to host a 2-km rowing event, even if rowing is selected for the 2015 SEA Games. The Sports Hub website says “a 1km course will be accessible from Marina Bay”.

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT, BUT DID IT WORK?

By regularly staging marquee events such as the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Championships, to be held at the Singapore Indoor Stadium (SIS) for the next five years, the authorities are hoping that it will inspire inactive Singaporeans to participate in some form of sport.

The SIS hosted the Heineken Open, an Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour event, for four years in the late 1990s. Did that prompt Singaporeans to become active in sports?

Teo Ser Luck, Chairman of the Sporting Culture Committee, says that “the kicker must be sports that Singaporeans can connect with”. No, the “kicker” has to be much more than that. It must be capable of grabbing global attention.

Teo hopes that two events, the Fifa U-20 World Cup and Fifa Club World Cup which Singapore may get to host, will “pull Singaporeans in droves to the National Stadium”.

Malaysia hosted the U-20 event in 1997, but it received a rather poor response from Malaysians, whose football tastes are more similar to Singaporeans’ than any other nationality. The home team’s three matches at the 80,000-capacity Shah Alam Stadium drew crowds of 25,000, 10,000, and 25,000.

The Fifa club event features only one European team. If no English team is involved, most Singaporeans will likely choose to stay away.

ARE YOU SERIOUS?

If the authorities are serious about true sporting success, they must see to it that the Sports Hub stages an event that is original and with global appeal. Such an event can generate substantial revenue which could be used for national sports development, while driving Singapore’s sport tourism to unprecedented heights.

I propose that the Singapore Sports Council, Football Association of Singapore, and Singapore Tourism Board work together to make a pitch to Fifa for the creation of the Fifa World Champions League, exclusively for countries that have won the World Cup – Brazil, Italy, Germany, Argentina, Uruguay, France, Spain, and England.

This event will provide additional income (broadcast rights fees, sponsorships, etc) for Fifa, while boosting its public relations because it shows that Fifa is reaching out to the Third World of football – physically small and weak footballing nations with no realistic chance of hosting the World Cup.

Fifa’s international match calendar runs on a four-year cycle. There is always one year without a global or major continental event (World Cup, Confederations Cup, Olympics or European Championship). The next inactive year is 2015.

Even if Fifa buys the idea, will the eight global football giants be on board?

The proposed event will always be held one year after the World Cup, offering those players who had failed to win the Cup the previous year a quick opportunity to prove themselves, instead of having to wait four long years, while the eight teams also get to win more fans in a part of the world where they don’t usually play.

COMPETITION FORMAT

The tournament can be completed within 18 days in June, when players are free from playing for their clubs. Evenly divided into two groups, the eight teams will play 15 matches, including the semi-finals and final. Because the final group matches must be played simultaneously and Singapore has only one major stadium, two matches could be held in Malaysia.

For the other three years, Singapore’s sports officials could consider striking up a similar deal with Europe’s football governing body, Uefa, for a new tournament during European clubs’ pre-season, involving only teams that have won the Champions League (or European Cup).

If the authorities are willing to pursue this and able to pull it off, Singapore’s international profile will surely enjoy a mega boost, much more than that from the F1 race and Youth Olympiad combined.

Not only that, businesses that cater to tourists will be one big, happy bunch, while Singaporean sports fans (most of whom love football) will likely still be feeling giddy even after the football immortals have left our island.