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Raising interest is priority for SEA Games organisers: Athletes

SINGAPORE — The price tag of S$324.5 million to organise this year’s SEA Games is a reasonable one, but plans to ramp up public interest for the biennial meet must be big enough, said past and present Singapore athletes TODAY spoke to.

SINGAPORE — The price tag of S$324.5 million to organise this year’s SEA Games is a reasonable one, but plans to ramp up public interest for the biennial meet must be big enough, said past and present Singapore athletes TODAY spoke to.

On Wednesday, the Singapore SEA Games Organising Committee (SINGSOC) announced a slew of events and initiatives to increase publicity and interest in the event, taking place from June 5 to 16. The Games is also part of Singapore’s 50th birthday celebrations, which include a mass event on Orchard Road on March 7 and sports festivals every weekend from March to May.

SINGSOC executive chairman Lim Teck Yin said more than 70 per cent of Singaporeans are supportive of the SEA Games, and one priority is to win over the rest who are ambivalent about it — something the athletes agreed with.

“Other countries spend much more than us for the SEA Games,” said former national footballer Rafi Ali, who won a bronze at the 1993 Games held here. “(But) the most important thing is that the Games will be a good opportunity for Singapore to truly unite and be a sporting nation.

“It takes time to change mindsets. Singaporeans are not sports fanatics. Starting to ramp up interest from March onwards is good, but it needs to start now as well.”

Rafi remembers how 55,000 fans would pack the old National Stadium for the 1993 Games, but acknowledged times are now different.

“Singaporeans knew their national athletes then. But now, there are so many distractions, and we have so many more major international sporting events such as the WTA Finals and big football matches in Singapore. We need to get Singaporeans reacquainted with their sportsmen and women fast.”

National water polo player and three-time SEA Games gold medallist Lim Yaoxiang also voiced concern over a seeming lack of buzz with 125 days to the Games. “The city is not immersed into the SEA Games spirit yet. There are no billboards and banners if you go around town or drive along the expressways. But a lot is being done behind the scenes, such as recruiting volunteers, and some of us have gone back to our alma maters to talk to the students to get them excited about the Games.”

One of the key announcements made by SINGSOC was that entry to half of the 36 sports, including sailing, at this year’s SEA Games will be free-of-charge.

National sailor Darren Choy, who competed at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games here, believes that could prove a masterstroke in making the Games a lot more accessible and raise interest in sports such as sailing.

“Sailing is not really a good spectator sport because the races are very far offshore and it has many rules, which can be quite complicated,” he said. “I am glad it is free for all to watch at the SEA Games, and holding it at Marina Bay is better for viewing.” Adelene Wong

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