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S’pore’s 2025 World Athletics Championships bid — a potential game changer or vanity project?

Singapore’s announcement that it has made a bid to host the World Athletics Championships in 2025 has met with mixed reaction, since the news last week.

S’pore’s 2025 World Athletics Championships bid — a potential game changer or vanity project?

The 2017 World Championships in London saw some 335,000 unique spectators, including 230,000 who were non-local — a welcome boost for the local hospitality industry which has been battered by the pandemic.

Singapore’s announcement that it has made a bid to host the World Athletics Championships in 2025 has met with mixed reaction, since the news last week.

National sports agency Sport Singapore (SportSG) said that, if successful, it would mark the first time a South-east Asian nation has hosted this flagship event, and that it would be a fitting addition to the country’s celebrations of its 60th year of independence.

Among the sporting community, and the country more broadly, there were seemingly an equal number for and against the project.

It is useful to examine the arguments on both sides, before considering the best way forward to ensure that the project is a genuine success for all stakeholders, should Singapore secure the bid.

THE PROS

SportSG, the Singapore Tourism Board, and national sports association Singapore Athletics had highlighted significant benefits of hosting the event.

Beyond the additional festivities that could be added to the likely long list of celebrations around SG60, the event would enhance Singapore’s reputation as a host nation capable of presenting world-class major events, and potentially contribute to the tourism sector here as well.

In the bid guide document for the championships, it is stated that the local organiser can expect to keep all revenues from sources such as public ticket sales, rent from sold expo area spaces, food and beverage sold on site to the public, as well as hospitality and merchandise sales.

The bid guide states that the world championships, featuring 10 days of competition and more than 2,000 athletes competing in 49 track-and-field events along with the marathon and race walk, are typically watched by a global audience of a billion people.

Some 6,600 beds would also be required for between 11 and 20 nights for international federation staff and guests, as well as teams of competitors, media and suppliers.

In terms of on-site spectators, the 2017 World Championships in London saw some 335,000 unique spectators, including 230,000 who were non-local. Such tourism activity would be a welcome boost for the local hospitality industry which has been battered by the pandemic.

On the sidelines of the sporting action, a World Athletics Congress would also have to be organised for the 214 member federations during the world championships, and that could also provide opportunities for local service providers and vendors.

The guide also notes that the 2017 world championships saw direct economic impact of US$104.1 million (S$141.3 million) for the British capital, comprising US$75 million in spectator spend, US$19.6 million in event attendee spend and US$13.9 million in event organiser spend, offset by "direct leakages" of US$4.4 million.

Direct leakages occur when visitors spend money at an event that does not flow into the host economy, such as when they patronise on-site concessions or trade-stands which are not resident in the country.

The event is likely to be a boon for the S$1.33-billion Singapore Sports Hub, which will be a focal point for the bid to host the championships.

The 55,000-seat National Stadium is a fitting backdrop for a world championship event and would be able to showcase top-notch athletic performances, should Singapore win the bid.

In terms of the benefit for the sporting community, the event is expected to inspire the next generation of athletes.

Singapore Athletics president Lien Choong Luen said: "Singapore25 will give our athletes and those from the region the opportunity to rub shoulders with the giants of track and field and fire up more interest in the sport.”

THE CONS

But not everyone is completely over the moon at the Singapore25 bid.

In speaking with various members of the local sporting community, I have heard objections spanning a range of issues.

High among these is concern over the cost, especially for a one-off event that is unlikely to have sustained economic benefit in the medium to long term.

According to the event bid guide, the budget to organise the world championships is estimated at US$70 million to US$80 million, with logistics accounting for a third of the total. This will vary according to local costs and conditions.

This is comparable to Singapore’s other marquee sports event — the Singapore F1 Grand Prix, which reportedly requires hosting fees of S$35 million per race, and chalks up S$150 million in terms of total organising costs.

However, Singapore’s F1 deals have been multi-year, with the latest contract seeing the race staying in the Lion City till 2028.

A sports observer said that a one-off world championships in athletics would likely not boost Singapore’s reputation on the global stage as much as the hosting of the F1 race since 2008.

At the same time, the lack of any world-class Singaporean athletes in the sport currently means that Singaporeans are unlikely to be cheering on any local representatives in the finals of the event, although that could change by 2025.

Others I spoke to pointed out that hosting mega-events was not necessarily a key contributor to national pride that would be celebrated at SG60, and that the funds could be better spent on other sports or events.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

I have a somewhat different view to the critics.

As an avowed sports fan, I am particularly drawn to athletics, especially the middle-distance running events, which strike me as the perfect and most fiendish combination of speed and endurance that requires almost super-human abilities to excel at.

Despite being a mediocre runner at best, I love watching all manner of track-and-field competitions, and catching the action live and in person is a completely different proposition to watching it on television.

At the same time, I am a fan of sports in general, and have travelled to catch sporting events such as the F1 race in Shanghai, and the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

In my past roles as a former national athlete and sports administrator, I have also been to many major games, including the 2015 South-east Asian Games in Singapore.

I am a firm believer in the power and beauty of sports and its ability to inspire, uplift, motivate and entertain people, ranging from the die-hard sports fanatic to a casual spectator.

As we aim to build a broader sporting culture, and to evolve and grow as a sporting nation, developing a greater appreciation for sports in general and the performances of athletes as a whole is important.

As such, moving away from a parochial tendency to support only a local or home team, and then only when they are winning, would be helpful.

There are some promising signs that we are moving in that direction.

At last year’s Suzuki Cup, the Singapore Lions failed to make the final, but still managed to fire the imaginations and passion of local sports fans with their fighting spirit. Singaporean fans, famous for being hard on our national footballers, united behind the team in a way that bodes well for the future of the sport.

Hosting the athletics world championships would offer yet more opportunities for sports fans here to develop a greater appreciation for sports in general, and perhaps rally behind our hometown heroes, even if they’re not challenging for gold just yet.

As such, there is a good chance that the Singapore25 project could be a positive game-changer for the Singapore sports scene if the organiser ensures that the financial and economic benefits are optimised for the local ecosystem, and that sufficient marketing, outreach and education efforts are deployed so that the event contributes to a more robust and mature sporting culture in the country.

Mine might be a slightly biased perspective, but I’m excited at the prospect of seeing the world’s best track-and-field athletes strutting their stuff on our shores.

It’s not a done deal, with Kenya and Japan previously expressing interest in hosting the event as well.

I, and many other sports fans, will be watching with great interest when the results of the award are announced, most likely in July during this year’s world championships in Eugene, Oregon in the United States.

That city is a hotbed for global athletics. Perhaps Singapore can join them in three years’ time.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Nicholas Fang is a former national athlete, sports administrator and journalist. He was a Nominated Member of Parliament from 2012-2014, and Team Singapore’s chef de mission at the 2015 Southeast Asian Games.

Related topics

World Athletics Championships Sport Singapore Singapore25

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