Sports fans snapping up tickets for SEA Games
The 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games rolls into town in June and the Republic will aim to wow as it hosts the region's biggest multi-sport event for the first time in 22 years.
And, crucially, there are already signs the nation is stirring.
Addressing the media on the sidelines of The Straits Times Athlete of the Year award ceremony at Raffles Hotel yesterday, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong revealed that ticket sales for the Games have been brisk.
A check with Sport Singapore revealed that more than 80 per cent of tickets for the opening ceremony on June 5 at the National Stadium have already been snapped up.*
There will be 36 sports on show at the SEA Games and 18 of them, including athletics, will be free to spectators, while football, swimming and the rest are ticketed events.
Swimming, gymnastics, badminton, diving and water polo are in high demand, while cuesports, equestrian and fencing have already sold 70 per cent of tickets to date.*
Heartened by the interest levels for the Games, which will run from June 5 to 16, Wong said: "The momentum is steadily building.
"We have started ticket sales and I would say they are better than expected.
"Usually... people will start scrambling and buying tickets only at the tail end, nearer towards the event date."
He added that the relevant government agencies will step up efforts in the next three months to engage Singaporeans and drum up support.
Road shows and sport festivals have been lined up, and athletes will return to the towns they grew up in, to add a personal touch and woo residents to go to venues and support them.
Wong urged Singaporeans to throw their support behind local athletes who have been "putting in tremendous effort" and making personal sacrifices to in pursuit of glory at the Games.
"I would say the rest of it now is in the hands of Singaporeans," he said.
"Whether it's the organisation, the system, the athletes, the volunteers... We have done everything we can to gear up for the Games, and now it is up to Singaporeans to respond.
"I hope Singaporeans respond enthusiastically and support the SEA Games and our athletes, who are putting in so much effort to bring glory to Singapore."
In a bid to ensure the Republic's high-performance sports system is good enough to continue to produce top-notch athletes, the Singapore Sports School is exploring extending pathways for student-athletes to better pursue their sporting ambition.
Using bowler Jazreel Tan and swim star Joseph Schooling - who have excelled in their disciplines while studying in the United States - as examples, the sports minister said: "What we hope to do is to have a support system that would allow student-athletes to really train hard and balance between studies and sports and go as far as they can in terms of their sporting talent."
Today, the Sports School has one six-year IB (International Baccalaureate) programme and one route being considered is to offer more such programmes.
The school could also develop more through-train links with institutions, both locally and internationally.
"Currently there is only one with Republic Polytechnic," said Wong.
"Potentially, we could have tie-ups with more polytechnics and have more programmes in the polytechnics... we are talking to overseas institutions, too."
Yip Ren Kai, a former national water polo player who is chairman of the local Athletes' Commission, lauded the review.
"Athletes (like to) think they can compete for an unlimited period of time, but we all know this is not possible," he said.
"So these expanded pathways, and the increase of partnerships with institutes of higher learning, if it happens, can help them plan exactly which route they want to take after they finish the IB programme and prepare them for the workforce.
"We need to prepare our athletes with skills for life after sport and this is very much in line with what the Athletes' Commission tries to do."
* Ticket sales figures as of yesterday. Organisers Singsoc urge everyone to buy tickets early to avoid disappointment. Go to www.seagames2015.com for more information and to purchase tickets.