Take the next step, Sport Singapore CEO Lim urges athletes and NSAs
Sport Singapore CEO Lim wants athletes and NSAs to take the next step; urges FAS to grow talent pool
He was one of the best in water polo in the country, winning six gold medals at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games from 1985 to 1995 and an Asian Games bronze.
Lim Teck Yin was an elite athlete and a soldier who rose through the ranks to become brigadier general.
He knows well exhaustion, joy, pressure, failure, fear, success and satisfaction, but I wonder if anything would have prepared him for the last 12 months.
The year must have been quite a ride for Lim, chief executive of Sport Singapore and chairman of the organising committee of the 2015 SEA Games and the 2015 Asean Para Games.
Preparations would have kicked off years before, but the year started with worries over the state of the field at the National Stadium.
The Singapore Sports Hub came through, but after the heady success of the 28th SEA Games here in June, there were fears December's Asean Para Games would suffer as the country struggled with Games fatigue.
How the nation stepped up to deliver a rousing final sports act, fittingly, in the country's 50th year of independence.
Little wonder then that less than 24 hours after the closing ceremony of the 8th Asean Para Games, Lim was fresh faced and carried a spring in his step, even as he looked ahead.
We met on the sidelines of the local organiser's official wrap-up of the Asean Para Games and Lim said: "As we go past our 50th anniversary in Singapore, and I think its true for many different sectors, the question is how much value we get from sport and whether the quality of participation is improving.
"I give you an example. We could have bussed people in for the Asean Para Games, watch, leave.
"Is that quality participation, as opposed to come in, understand what the sport is about, go through the Experience Tour, which sort of helps you understand disability, raise the level of awareness that people with disability have, come and see what these athletes can do, and if you are moved by what you've seen and experienced, will you make a difference when we make a push in the future.
"Today, quality of engagement is what must be achieved... and i think we are now at that tipping point.
"... it's a day out with the family, come and be entertained, and be inspired and let's get going."
Let's get going, indeed.
Team Singapore finished second in the overall standings at the 28th SEA Games with an unprecedented haul of 84 gold, 73 silver and 102 bronze medals.
Table-toppers Thailand were nine golds better off but the host nation's total haul of 259 medals outstripped even the kingdom's treasure chest.
Fans turned out in droves for both the SEA Games and the Para Games, all sorts of records were broken among the following on social media and rivals and visiting friends hailed the efficiency and organisational expertise of the hosts.
Team Singapore finished sixth in the overall standings at the Para Games with 24 golds, 17 silvers and 22 bronzes, the country's best in the history of the event.
With more resources invested, with the Singapore Sports Institute growing all the time, athletic success is becoming more commonplace, and Lim wants to move to the next step.
"I've looked at the last 10, 15 years, we are increasingly achieving results on the world stage, whether it is our bowlers, whether it's our junior sailors, a couple of swimmers, whether it is the table tennis team, we have got athletes who are competing beyond the region," he said.
"You've seen more and more medals won at the Commonwealth Games than before.
"In a sport like swimming, you look at Joseph Schooling, and they are making a breakthrough and I hope behind Joe Schooling there are others who at an age group level will be breaking his records.
"When I think of the quality of participation in this regard I now begin to think in terms of ROI (Return on Investment).
"In other words, are they inspiring Singaporeans? Am I able to sense that, am I able to feel that, am I able to measure that?"
To measure it, Lim has instructed his team at Sport Singapore to develop a comprehensive framework that can show athletes and national sports associations what they are doing in terms of engagement and what more they need to do.
He drew up a football example to make his point.
"I was discussing football with Winston (Lee, Football Association of Singapore general secretary) and he told me we've got a very talented Under-13 team.
"I said we had a very talented Youth Olympics team, and that 2010 YOG team could have been the SEA Games team five years later and they could have had a huge fan base, if we had paid attention to keeping them together, building on the aura they had developed around them, developing their football, of course, basically building a whole following behind them that would have filled other benefits, other sponsors.
"It works as a whole ecosystem," Lim stressed.
"So now when you tell me you have a talented Under-13 team, I tell you 2017 SEA Games, 2018 Asian Games, 2019 SEA Games, Tokyo 2020 Olympics, you've got four major Under-23 campaigns.
"From the Under-13s all the way to the current 22-year-olds, you need to be building a fan base around them, as well as developing their football.
"When you are privately sponsored, the company that sponsors you will make demands on you.
"If not, then your sponsors are the people of Singapore."
The Sports Hub enjoyed a bumper year in terms of engagement with the public because of the two major regional Games.
Of late, though, the cost of staging events at the Hub has made headlines, with organisers of track and field's Asia Masters event and football's Merlion Cup looking for other venues.
Sport Singapore are the Government representatives in this 25-year Public-Private-Partnership and Lim said: "There've been some headlines about the cost of hosting some events at the Sports Hub and that's something that needs to be addressed.
"It's sad to see events fall out because the venue is unaffordable.
"But we have to build the overall local sporting calendar and community events at the Hub are just as important as glamour events, elite events, lifestyle events.
It was not all smooth sailing for Lim and his team this year.
There was the fan lockout controversy at the closing ceremony of the SEA Games and some crossed wires over the transport system for athletes in the build-up to the Para Games.
The football team's failure at the SEA Games was the biggest disappointment of all.
Lim believes there are deeper issues affecting the development of the country's No. 1 one sport.
"My own view is that the pathway, the pyramid is too steep, it needs to be a little more broader, so that more youth are kept in the game for a much longer period before it narrows out to the youth teams and the national teams," he said.
"I am also interested at how your grassroots development is contributing to the whole base of football fans in Singapore.
"In other words, the FAS, in my view, like in any other sport in Singapore, as an NSA, cannot only take the view where you see what 'I'm doing.'
"You need to see what the rest of the ecosystem is doing and ask how that is coming together.
"So when I talk about grassroots development, I'm looking at the whole span, of what the FAS does, what ActiveSG will do, what schools are doing, what private academies are doing, what private leagues are doing, and how is it coming together, how is it working together.
"In many countries, the club scene is a very important element of ecosystem success. And when you talk club scene it is about proper membership, proper registration, proper training, proper development and opportunities to enjoy through leagues and competitions and socially."
One burning issue that must be addressed is the S.League.
Said Lim: "There is a continuum between what I've heard from the right-hand side, which is a commercialised, almost franchise league, that is all about the business of football.
And then on the left-hand side there is a fully developmental league that is not about the business of football, takes a lot of subsidies, very much banks on youth and doesn't expect to pull in a lot of fans.
"And then there is everything else in between and the problem with everything else in between is that it doesn't have a very clear role and not very clear support and revenue model.
"That's where the S.League finds itself now and that's what the FAS has to think through deeply."
There has been much to cheer in 2015, and with the Olympics set to take centrestage in 2016.
Team Singapore will be looking for another successful outing next year in Rio.
Singapore have won medals (silver in 2008, two bronze medals in 2012) at the last two Games through the table tennis women, but whether treading carefully or wise to events, Lim is hardly bullish when I talk metal.
"I'm optimistic about the breakthroughs for the Olympics, the number of qualifiers on merit and not on quota.
"I think we've seen it already, whether they are the sailors, whether they're the swimmers.
"Medals...it's an uphill battle," he said.
"I'm hopeful, but nothing at this juncture gives me reason to be optimistic.
"I would say there's hope, but that's quite different from saying I'm very optimistic.
"I would say there's a lot of work to be done. From the athletes, the coaches, the associations, I think they know this, and they need to give it their due attention."
Today the sports world and even beyond the sports world, they move fairly quickly and you have to keep pace. So if you have lost one event, you need to very quickly ask yourself ‘are you going to lose the next one if you don’t adapt?’. That’s something they (Sports Hub) need to take into account.
—Sport Singapore CEO Lim Teck Yin
The Asean Super League is something that has been talked about for a long time. The clarity that the Asean Football Federation must have around the league and how the participating nations view the league are critical to its success. It has to be a Super League.
— Sport Singapore CEO Lim Teck Yin