Godfrey Robert: Let's keep the Sports Hub buzzing
To sustain it, the public has a say and fan engagement is vital
History has it that many stadiums built for a particular purpose, especially for sport, have turned out to be white elephants.
Take the Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Canada, where the 1976 Olympic Games was held.
There was a lot of rah-rah when the stadium, with a permanent seating capacity of 56,040 and superb architecture, was built for the quadrennial Games.
The multi-purpose stadium, nicknamed "The Big O", a reference to its name and to the doughnut shape of its roof, hosted sporting events such as football and baseball matches, and concerts and trade shows.
But, two decades after the debt-ridden Olympics, the stadium lost its vibrancy when it did not have a main tenant since the Expos left in 2004.
And today, with a history of structural and financial problems hiting it hard, it has become a white elephant.
"The Big O" turned into "The Big Owe", a reference to the astronomical cost of the stadium and its inherent wastage which caused debts to mount.
The Canadian capitulation is not alone. There are similar cases of stadiums in South America and Africa rising like phoenixes, but collapsing later like the ruins of Egypt.
That being the gloomy scenario, any plans for similar ventures require caution and care with a modicum of prudence among the people charged with this responsibility.
The former National Stadium, opened at Kallang in 1973 with the blessings of our founding father Mr Lee Kuan Yew, raised such apprehension and anxiety.
The main question asked then was: Can we fill the 50,000-capacity stadium, then a brilliant masterstroke, when our previous best had been packing Jalan Besar Stadium to the rafters with 15,000 spectators.
And when the Sultan's Gold Cup final between Singapore Malays and Kelantan Malays was staged there in June 1973 - just a month before the official opening - the presence of a 32,000 crowd hinted that it could be done, certainly with football which hit dizzying heights then.
So when the Singapore Sports Council (whose offices were at the stadium), under the chairmanship of Dr Tan Eng Liang, and the Football Association of Singapore, helmed by N Ganesan, saw value in staging Malaysia Cup matches at the National Stadium, the results were positive.
For years, during the Malaysia Cup heyday, and the three South-east Asia Games (1973, 1983 and 1993) hosted by Singapore, the former National Stadium rocked with the Kallang Roar.
Some five years ago, the iconic stadium - having run its use-by date - was turned into ashes, for the building of a new sports and multi-purpose venue at the historic place.
It was apt that the name was changed to the Singapore Sports Hub, which was to also house the new National Stadium, in addition to the OCBC Aquatic Centre, OCBC Arena, Singapore Indoor Stadium, Kallang Wave Mall and Water Sports Centre
The plan was for a fully-integrated sports, entertainment and lifestyle hub for everyone in Singapore.
The objectives were three-fold:
- Integrated lifestyle hub for world-class sports and entertainment events.
- A viable public-private business model.
- A national and global architectural landmark.
The desired outcomes were:
- Thriving sports and entertainment eco-system.
- Key driver for "Sporting Singapore" vision.
- Platform for business partnerships.
- Preferred sports and entertainment destination.
- Urban regenerator of Kallang area.
- Vibrant lifestyle hub with world-class customer service.
So now that the $1.33 billion facility on the 35ha site is a reality, has the public-private partnership -- helmed by Sports Singapore and Singapore Sports Hub - with a mission of design, build, finance, operate and transfer, been a dream?
Generally, it has been, although sticking out like a sore thumb, was the problem with the National Stadium pitch.
Criticisms had been tossed around about the condition of the pitch; grumblings about sand base, pockets of bald patches, and a dangerous turf, had been heard.
And a leaky roof - though repaired immediately - at the Singapore Indoor Stadium also raised concerns.
But the dynamic people responsible for the stadium took the bashing - especially from social media - on their chins and remedied the problem.
So today, a "lay-and-play' solution is utilised and the protagonists - be they footballers, rugby players or athletes - have nothing but praise for that great innovation.
Today, after the first year of operations which has seen more than 100 events held, the mega-structure was officially opened by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
This official opening comes after the Sports Hub has played host to the SEA Games, Suzuki Cup, international and friendly football matches, such as Brazil v Japan, Singapore v Juventus, the Barclays Asia Trophy and many concerts.
Apart from that, the Sports Hub now boasts of a pitch which has been praised by the visiting teams during the SEA Games football event, and more recently, officials from the English Premier League.
In fact, some say that the pitch is one of the best (if not the best) in South-east Asia.
A recent survey by HDB for the SG50 Heart Map involving 80,000 Singaporeans also listed the Sports Hub as one of the top 50 spots in Singapore - a feat also acknowledged by Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu in a recent speech.
For the Sports Hub, it has been business as usual days after the SEA Games.
Just a few days after the closing ceremony on June 16, the OCBC Aquatic Centre hosted the Singapore National Swimming Championships, the WWE Live event and the OCBC Waterfest.
There was also a prayer event attended by 50,000 people at the National Stadium on a Sunday, which was organised by the churches and PM Lee was the guest-of-honour.
Furthermore, the WTA Championships in October, and scheduled concerts by popstars like Taylor Swift (Nov 7-8) all have the capability to draw in foreigners, while entertaining Singaporeans at the same time.
So the Sports Hub has become a legacy, one that is unique, one with a vision, and a model for others to follow.
And the Sports Museum housed there is rich with history, building a bridge between the pioneers of our sport, like Wong Peng Soon and Tan Howe Liang, to the current-day youngsters who hope to emulate, or even outshine some of our greatest athletes.
Moving forward, it is important that our community embraces the venue, and fall in love and build memories around the Sports Hub.
It is perhaps more important that the Sports Hub is also used as part of the national agenda, to continue to engage and excite our community, and also be a vehicle to boost tourism in the modern metropolis.
For that to become a sustained reality, perhaps it is timely that all parties, namely the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, Sports Singapore and Sports Hub, come together and bring about mid-term to long-term event strategies for the venue.
Inputs from the public will also help, for fan engagement forms the pulse of any event, deciding on the measure of success or failure.
Upcoming sporting events at Sports Hub
- Aug 25-30: 5th Fina World Junior Swimming Championships (OCBC Aquatic Centre)
- Sept 19: APSN Walkathon (Sports Hub)
- Oct 23-Nov 1: BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore (Singapore Indoor Stadium)
- Nov 14: Castlewood Group Battle of the Reds - Liverpool Legends v Man United Legends (National Stadium)
- Nov 18-20: International Premier Tennis League (Singapore Indoor Stadium)
*For ticket details or purchase, go to www.sportshub.com.sg/sportshubtix or call 3158-7888