Watch SEA Games athletics events for free
Fans aiming to watch one of Singapore's sprinters pull off a shock over Thai speed demon Jirapong Meenapra in the blue- riband men's 100m at the 2015 South-east Asia (SEA) Games here in June will not have to pay for a ticket.
The Singapore SEA Games Organising Committee (Singsoc) yesterday announced that track and field events - almost all of which will be held at the 55,000-capacity National Stadium - will be one of the 18 sports that won't be ticketed.
Singapore will host the biennial Games from June 5 to 16 - the first time since 1993. Track and field will be on stage from June 6 to 11.
It is almost always the biggest event of a multi-sport Games, with organisers usually cashing in due to the high demand for tickets but, just like all three Games held here previously, this year's event will be free.
"We are doing this to enable everyone to have a Games experience," said Singsoc chairman Lim Teck Yin yesterday.
"If you own a company and you want to bring all your staff down to Kallang for an experience of the Games, but you can't get tickets for everybody to swimming, table tennis or badminton, you can at least come into the National Stadium.
"If you're a schoolteacher bringing children for a learning journey, if you're an extended family that wants to have a day out at the Games, the National Stadium will be opened to you to enjoy the overall atmosphere of the Games and to experience track and field.
"We want to see a rejuvenation of our track and field scene, and SEA Games athletics will be a great opportunity for us to do so."
Former national 100m record holder C Kunalan is certain the move will give Singapore's track and field athletes an added boost.
The 72-year-old won 15 SEA Games medals, one of those was on home soil in 1973 when he was part of the 4x400m relay team that won silver.
When the Games was in Singapore again, in 1993, he was the national sprints coach.
"I remember, in 1993, the grandstand at the old Kallang Stadium was packed for the 100m final," said Kunalan, who is the Singapore Athletic Association (SAA) vice-president for training and selection.
"In fact, I went up to the stands to watch the race with the spectators and you could really feel the electrifying atmosphere.
"It was the same in 1973 when I ran the relay event. That kind of home support really gives athletes a boost."
Delighted with the move, SAA president Tang Weng Fei is looking at how they can capitalise and attract more eyeballs to the sport.
"We have to get people to come and the free attendance is helpful. There is already strong interest in road running, for example, and hopefully the SEA Games can also get more interested in other events," he said.
"In fact... we had lunch with people from the Sports Hub and we talked about things we could do to allow the public to get to know track and field events better, and develop an appreciation for them.
"Everybody knows about the 100m sprint... But the more technical events, not many people know what a good javelin throw is, what would get a relay team disqualified.
"I was in Myanmar before the last SEA Games (in December 2013) and I saw something similar on local television telling people about the pole vault event. I don't see why we cannot do something similar."
To guard against any damage to the new pitch, Lim revealed yesterday that the hammer event will be held at the Kallang Practice Track, which is a short walk from the National Stadium.
Singsoc continues to talk to the SAA and the Sports Hub about holding the discus, shot put and javelin events at the National Stadium.
SAA general manager Yazeen Buhari said the association supported the move.
Said Yazeen: "We have heard feedback from our athletes and we acknowledge that our local throwers are really looking forward to competing in the new stadium. We are working with the Sports Hub and looking at solutions.
"At the moment, it is still 50-50 because there are considerations that have to be made, but things are going positively."
Worth their time in gold
Quah Zheng Wen. PHOTO: TNP
It was a difficult hurdle to cross before, with various National Sports Associations (NSAs) struggling to find a balance between the National Service (NS) commitments of their male athletes who were training for sporting excellence at the same time.
But, in the lead-up to June's South-east Asia (SEA) Games here, NSAs have received a huge boost.
Over 40 athletes across a range of sports will be deferred from National Service until after the Games, which will be held from June 5 to 16.
"The Government recognises that this is a special year and the deferment from enlistment is a reflection of such," said chairman of the Singapore SEA Games Organising Committee (Singsoc) executive committee Lim Teck Yin, on the sidelines of a briefing on ticket prices for the event and the build-up of activities.
The full list of deferred athletes was not released, but it is believed swimmers like Quah Zheng Wen and footballers are in the mix.
"The deferment has benefited me in that it has allowed me to train more thoroughly, given that I have spent less time in the pool last year due to my International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma examinations," said Quah (below), who was named Most Valuable Male Swimmer at last month's Yakult 10th Singapore National Swimming Championships.
There, the 18-year-old ensured qualification for the 50 metres, 100m and 200m backstroke and also the 50m and 100m freestyle events at the SEA Games.
The sport of football is an Under-23 tournament and the Singapore team are eyeing a first gold medal at the biennial Games, which will be extra special if it is achieved on home soil in the 50th year of the nation's independence.
The coach of the Singapore side is former national defender Aide Iskandar, who, for some time now, has had to juggle his roster because of players and NS issues.
He had to grapple with it at the 2013 Myanmar Games - where a team led by national star Hariss Harun returned with bronze - and Aide is grateful for the boost this time round.
"The preparation that we are enjoying now is definitely much, much better," he said, when contacted by The New Paper yesterday.
The Singapore U-23s are currently on a training stint in Turkey as part of their preparations for the Games.
"This is the first time we've had our best U-23s together on an overseas stint in a long time, and it has already been useful. We're able to train twice a day, play against quality opposition and also manage to create a very positive energy in the team," added the former Singapore captain.
"We are very grateful to the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Community, Culture and Youth, as well as Sport SG for this opportunity."
Aide revealed that seven of his players who have already enlisted have also been granted time off for training.
Two in the men's hockey squad have been deferred, but five others who are currently in NS have struggled to get time off for training and competitions.
"Enrico Marican and Ashriq Ferdaus are two key players for us, and having them able to commit full time to training ahead of the SEA Games goes a long way in helping cement the core of our team," said coach Solomon Casoojee, who is making efforts to get his current full-time NS men to train consistently.
Shafiq Abdul Rashid shuttled between his camp and the Sengkang Stadium at the recently concluded World League Round 2 tournament, where the team finished seventh in a field of eight sides that featured the likes of Malaysia, Poland and Japan.
"There have been a good number who have been deferred in order to pursue their aspirations for the SEA Games - more than 40 athletes across a range of sports."
- Singsoc chairman Lim Teck Yin
The magic of a 'home' Games
Singapore will host the 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games for the first time in 22 years in June - the fourth occasion it will stage the region's biggest sports event after 1973, '83 and '93.
Yesterday, local organisers Singsoc revealed the plan to rally the country around the Games, the goal to raise and maintain excitement levels during the event - from June 5 to 16 - and the much-awaited ticket details.
Boxer Syed Abdul Kadir, footballer David Lee and sailor champion Benedict Tan featured prominently at the Games in 1973, 1983 and 1993, respectively.
Kadir, who won a silver medal in 1973 - the first time Singapore hosted the Games - recalled how everyone in the country was excited about the event.
Speaking to The New Paper, the 66-year-old said: "The atmosphere was great. We had a lot of support because boxing was one of the main sports in Singapore at the time.
"It was electrifying."
Goalkeeper Lee was in the team that lost narrowly to Thailand in the football final at the old National Stadium, going down 2-1 in front of 60,000 fans.
He relished the feeling of playing in front of a home crowd, but remembered being "deeply disappointed" over the loss.
The football competition is now an Under-23 event and Singapore have still to win gold and Lee, 56, hopes Aide Iskandar's boys will adapt to the pressure of playing in front of a big crowd.
"Hopefully they will be able to use the home-ground advantage to spur themselves on," he said.
"With a bigger contingent this year, I also hope Team Singapore will win more medals and achieve a top-three position in the medal tally."
Tan recalled that the Singapore team were under pressure to deliver in 1993, but the athletes chose to face it positively.
"We knew that Singaporeans would be behind us," said the four-time SEA Games gold medallist and 1994 Asian Games champion.
Tan wished to see more "heart" from spectators this year.
"There's a lot more effort to integrate the crowd this time round, so I hope more Singaporeans understand the benefits of a sports culture," the 47-year-old said.
"The athletes will definitely benefit if they can sense the crowd behind them."