Bring football back to the National Stadium, says Leonard Thomas
After hosting a rousing rugby weekend, the National Stadium needs to show off our national sport
So many world-class athletes were on show at the National Stadium over the weekend, powerful, skilful speed merchants with a remarkable ability to sidestep opponents, throw body feints, release teammates with a slick dummy or a slickly timed pass and simply ram through defences.
They starred in front of around 30,000 fans at the HSBC World Rugby Singapore Sevens.
Schoolboy rugby players aged between 12 and 14 from Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) and Raffles Institution also showed off their game in the grand arena in the World First Singapore Schools Under-14 Sevens Series.
As I soaked in the crackling atmosphere and watched the likes of South Africa, Fiji and Kenya impress out on the turf, I wondered if football, our national sport, would ever hit the same heights at the National Stadium.
I've made the call previously, and I stress again, Singapore football must make the National Stadium its home.
It has taken to the stage only sporadically since the stadium's first game in June 2014 when Juventus dazzled a Singapore Selection side, the Lions have not played there yet this year and the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) has to act now to end that embarrassing sequence.
The country's football administrators must not take the easy option and rely on the cheaper alternative that is the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Current football chief Zainudin Nordin and his team cannot simply leave it to the new president and management committee because the election will be held in the second half of the year and by then, it will be too late to negotiate for matches in 2016.
The FAS must accept that the cost to stage matches at the National Stadium will be much higher because the arena is a big stage able to seat 55,000 fans.
After so many internationals and LionsXII games there over the years, the arena at Jalan Besar has hardly formed a bond with fans and, with a capacity of 6,000, it is too small.
Regular S.League games and age-group matches belong there, the Lions need to go back and roam in Kallang.
The FAS has known for some time that it would have to replace Bernd Stange and a top-quality national coach needs to be hired quickly to work with the national players and whip them into shape.
The FAS must find sponsors and put together a unique blueprint for the Singapore national team to play at the National Stadium regularly.
Borrow from the rugby copybook and organise an event-filled build-up days before the main event, music, host sideshows, hire a rock band, offer discounted tickets and hold a schools' final as a curtain-raiser.
In February last year, the FAS signed a $25-million, six-year deal with international sports media rights company MP & Silva that covers the rights to the national and age-group teams, sponsorship rights and international events for the Lions and national age-group sides.
There was nothing to show for it until the announcement earlier this month of the inaugural Nations Cup, a regional Under-21 tournament featuring hosts Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore which will be held in Malacca from June 3 to 5.
The deal still has yet to bear any fruit on home soil, after MP & Silva's proposed four-team Merlion Cup tournament for early this year fell through because of the cost of hiring the National Stadium.
Of course, operator Sports Hub Pte Ltd has to make money, but the consortium's management should also be willing to negotiate a favourable fee for all parties because football is the only sport in Singapore that can deliver a capacity crowd of 55,000 at the National Stadium.
Sport Singapore must play an active role here and help the FAS pull this off.
On May 10, Tampines Rovers will entertain Selangor in an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup Group E clash under the floodlights of the National Stadium.
Tampines chairman Krishna Ramachandra must be applauded for making his idea come true and his tactic of marketing it as a Singapore-Malaysia clash is smart, considering Selangor's special standing in our country's football history.
I have no doubt the FAS, Sports Hub and Sport Singapore came together and help Krishna realise his ambition.
Surely they can do so again for the country's national sport that draws on fans from all corners of the island, of any hue and creed.
Crack the formula and the modern Kallang facility has the potential to become Singapore's football amphitheatre.