Leonard Thomas: My SEA Games target for Singapore is 70 golds
Some of the world's best swimmers made a splash at the OCBC Aquatic Centre for three days last September, but the stands only averaged a daily smattering of fans, raising eyebrows because of the tremendous support the sport traditionally enjoys here.
Of course, over the last few years, the Singapore leg of the World Cup short course swimming series has been a big hit among the sport's followers here.
The world's top eight women tennis players descended on the Lion City for the inaugural WTA Finals at the Indoor Stadium last October and the arena was consistently packed, but this football-mad country could not fill out a new National Stadium even when defending champions Singapore faced arch-rivals Malaysia in a do-or-die clash at November's Suzuki Cup.
The biggest goal for Singapore's organisers is to rock the nation when the 2015 South-east Asia (SEA) Games rolls around.
There is nothing like a frenzied charge for medals to spark fireworks.
Much of the talk over the last few months was of a 50-gold target, it is conservative and I believe Team Singapore 2015 will easily bag 60.
After all, programmes have been put in place over the last few years to spur our athletes, the Government has pumped in millions to push them to the next level, and the Singapore Sports School has also honed a batch of youngsters for top-class competition.
My magic number is 70 golds out of the 402 on offer, it will be exciting and unprecedented, and it will serve as a powerful tool to whip up a fervour for sport in the country.
I know Nominated MP and sailing chief Benedict Tan said in Parliament recently that developing a passion in sport is not only about victories and medals.
He is right.
But Singapore sport needs a major shot in the arm and champions and special performances always catch fire.
It is anybody's guess if the National Stadium and the Indoor Stadium, and the swimming and rugby and hockey venues, will be full of men, women and children soaking in the thrills and spills and roaring on Team Singapore's athletes.
If the ultimate plan is to resurrect a sports culture here, then the 28th SEA Games could be one of the biggest catalysts in the mission.
If we are a sports-mad nation then the boxing events at the Singapore Expo and the Rugby 7s matches at Choa Chu Kang Stadium will surely be a riot of partisan noise, swimming will be a daily sellout and our world-class table tennis squad will be backed by throngs at the Indoor Stadium.
But this is not the Singapore of 1973 or 1983, or 1993, the three occasions this nation has hosted South-east Asia's biggest sports event.
Sport was a passion among so many here once.
Our athletes breathed fire, Singapore's teams fought because of it and the fans, who were consistently moved by sport, roared them on in their thousands.
The Singapore SEA Games Organising Committee (Singsoc) must be applauded after they announced yesterday that 18 sports events will be free to the public, while tickets for the other 18 will be priced cheaply.
The Ministry of Defence must be praised for granting National Service deferment to over 40 athletes, who would otherwise have had to disrupt their training in the build-up to June's Games.
I just hope Singsoc have put together an exciting plan to fan the flames in the run-up to the SEA Games and maintain an atmosphere outside the venues during the 12-day event.
They have tapped on 79 primary schools, and 56 secondary schools and junior colleges across the country and these youngsters will all play a big role to drum up a fever as the clock ticks down to the opening ceremony on June 5.
And youngsters the length and breadth of the country will be celebrating deliriously if swim star Joseph Schooling turns in a performance for the ages.
The magnificent Sports Hub must be a hive of daily activity during the Games and local fans could well turn up in their thousands to back Amirudin Jamal and Gary Yeo if they stare down Thai favourite Jirapong Meenapra in the men's 100m final at the National Stadium.
Families, husbands and wives, friends, boyfriends and girlfriends, young and old, Singaporeans of all races and every creed, will salute Aide Iskandar's Under-23 side if they end the drought and win the football gold.
Singapore has not seen anything like it in 22 years and the country must not let this opportunity slip.
The South-east Asia (SEA) Games organisers will follow the National Environment Agency guidelines on when it's safe to conduct outdoor sports events.
The Straits Times quoted experts on Tuesday saying that the haze, which traditionally occurs here between May and October, may come earlier this year.
Strenuous outdoor events, such as the marathon, 20km race walk and triathlon, will be held early on in the Games such that they can be rescheduled if need be.
In addition, competition schedules for the various sports can be compressed or adjusted, in consultation with the SEA Games Federation, said Singsoc chairman Lim Teck Yin.
He said: " We have given ourselves a benchmark that minimally we have to complete at least 75 per cent of the events to declare that we have successfully conducted the Games."
Expect delays in getting in and out of competition venues.
While recent sports competitions such as the Asian Netball Championships and the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup featured security measures, these will be ramped up during the Games.
Additional security personnel will be on duty in and around the Games venues, along with metal detectors and other security apparatus that are commonly seen during major Games.
Lim said: "We will not be compromising (on security)... there will be a bit of a lockdown and it will take a bit of time to clear the security channels.
"This is a high-profile event in an iconic year for Singapore, so give yourselves enough time to get to your seats."
He added that he will work with the police and national sports associations on how to manage venue security without compromising on the atmosphere.
The organisers are confident of staying within the $324.5 million budget, Lim said yesterday.
Some $148.3m will be spent on areas such as competition and medical costs, and technology associated with the events.
Other costs include manpower, accommodation, transport, outreach and the opening and closing ceremonies.
In addition, Singsoc has collected more than $60m in sponsorships, with "more to come in the coming weeks".
The organisers had originally targeted $50m in sponsorships.
Lim said Singsoc had been prudent in keeping within the budget from the early days in organising the Games, with staff coming up with innovations to save costs.
For example, chef-de-missions were given tablets with the various lengthy technical manuals to saving on printing costs in an earlier meeting. - LIM SAY HENG