While Mr Lee Kuan Yew's efforts to turn Singapore from a backwater into a first-world nation are widely known, veteran sports administrators also credit him for recognising the importance of sports.

Former Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) secretary general S. S. Dhillon said: "Mr Lee was a great builder of the nation. He considered sports an integral part of development for a rugged body and mind.

"He was responsible for the building of the first National Stadium.

"He also followed the organisation and implementation of the 1973, 1983 and 1993 South-east Asia Games (which Singapore hosted) very closely, and often requested for reports to know how they were being organised."

At the time, elite sports did not feature high on Mr Lee's to-do list, but former Singapore Sports Council (SSC) chairman Ng Ser Miang said: "He believed in building a rugged society and having sports for all.

"That was why we had a sports master plan to provide Singaporeans with facilities such as stadiums and swimming pools close to their housing estates.

"The SSC (now Sport Singapore) was set up to formulate and implement those plans."

Singapore's biggest football name, Fandi Ahmad, summed up the sentiments of many in the sports fraternity when he said: "This is really a sad time because Singapore is where it is today mainly because of Mr Lee's vision, guts and decisiveness.

"These are qualities we and our future generations can all learn and apply, in sports and in life."