Rohit Brijnath, Senior Correspondent

A sport hub built on a special relationship

My place of work, if I may modestly say so, is slightly superior to yours. You are confined to a single view, but from my office, it is ever-changing. A field one day, a pool the next, a court next week. I'm a sucker for stadiums, for stone buildings that quiver with history, for riveted-iron and tied- bamboo arenas where greatness rears its sweaty head.

So even though I avoid grinning selfies with athletes, I am constantly having myself photographed in stadiums. In 1987 at Wimbledon, in 2003 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics' Bird's Nest. It's as if standing there, one can hear the echoing drumbeat of the brilliant boots of athletes who once performed there.

One day, when we've finished carping about the much-maligned Sports Hub, we'll take our grandchildren there too and talk fondly of athletic ghosts and take photographs.

If athletes are careful constructions whose polished selves emerge in time, then stadiums, too, need time to refine themselves and become the homes we wish them to be. Greatness is demanding, yet greatness also demands patience.

This is not to absolve the Sports Hub officials of their sins. Like athletes, they are not immune to criticisms of form and progress. From failures of agronomy to miscarriages of public relations, there has been a cascade of miscues. To speak of architectural prizes, for instance, is in fact artless, for the stadium was not designed to beckon architects but for athletes to parade their skills on an exquisite canvas. It's not about the outside, fellows, but the inside. It is the quality of sport that makes a stadium - and the pitch directly affects it.

No doubt the awarding of an A grade to themselves by a Sports Hub official - to be fair, another said B-plus - seemed an act of immodesty. Yet even as we might say that excellence, a proudly Singaporean endeavour, has not been currently met yet, we must accede that errors have been admitted and badges of embarrassment worn by management.

Athletes often speak of the one-percenters, of the attention to detail that excellence demands. Pete Sampras, neurotic about air-conditioning, kept a portable unit in his house during Wimbledon every year. Some cyclists travel with their pillows to ensure that restful sleep is achieved.

The Sports Hub has to function similarly, it has to provide an experience of undiluted professionalism, from pitch to acoustics, from toilets to the view, from pricing to easy access.

Take one tiny error: at the WTA tennis event, not every usher appeared to appreciate the game's etiquette, allowing spectators to walk to their seats when play was on. All this concerns promoters, who pay hefty fees, promise athletes an inspiring environment to perform and guarantee spectators a worthwhile experience which includes cool wind on their bottoms but not water dripping on their heads. We want the world's best but, in exchange, we must be our best.

Yet we must acknowledge that the Sports Hub is an idea whose intent is possibly far more powerful than merely letting us watch Neymar dance and Serena swagger.

Sport is its attraction yet sport is also a tool. The Sports Hub, in a sense, is a concrete instrument of social change, whose cost is equal to its ambition.

Here, one presumes, will be fostered not just a sporting Singapore but a healthy Singapore, a Singapore of entrepreneurship and invention, a Singapore of sweaty, huddled community, a Singapore of competitiveness and participation. Dreams of such significance need time to become real. In this, at least, it has not failed, for it has barely started.

This stadium is artistic, but so is the Bird's Nest, the Sapporo Dome and Munich's Olympiastadion. Yet this stadium is somewhat unique in what it is: A singular sporting landmark in a city craving one.

New York has Yankee Stadium, Arthur Ashe Stadium and Madison Square Garden, to name but three. London has Wembley, Lord's and Wimbledon, but we could fill a page with their cathedrals.

Within those cities lie alternatives; within ours is this solitary monument trying to achieve so much, including some regional boasting. It means it gets all the attention; it means it is even more important to get it right.

As with athletes, we build relationships with stadiums, which are the most unusual constructions within our landscape. Unlike an airport, or a mall, their value goes beyond the merely functional.

For here eventually, to the field, to the pool, are attached memories which we clutch onto; here, at the stadium door, is left every preoccupation and emotion unleashed; here, in an act of unknowing and regular togetherness, every race, sex and hopefully class find a chance to mingle.

But this relationship only builds over time, over the years, over regular visits, whereupon the stadium transforms itself for us from mere iron and glass into something less tangible and yet more profound: a place of history and soul.

It is early still and we have not yet found that familiarity with the Sports Hub. And we must also acknowledge that no stadium or precinct, built of science within which art unfolds, finds a perfect harmony.

Paris' Roland Garros is all bloody red beauty, yet is crowded. An Australian friend, who revels in the tradition of the Melbourne Cricket Ground, finds its renovations a trifle soulless.

In India, a colleague is in awe of the furious sound that can arise from Kolkata's Eden Gardens, yet mourns its over-policing.

But this is part of the relationships we build with stadiums, as we might with, say, Cristiano Ronaldo - we slowly discover their personalities, we even anticipate their little quirks, we even like the fact that there is something amid beauty to quibble about. A love that exists despite imperfection. But, of course, only that much imperfection.

The pitch will be fixed and the leaking roof sealed but these early missteps mean that the Sports Hub has tripped itself: now everything is scrutinised even more carefully. Every minor mistake will be met with a "not again". Every calendar glitch will be scowled at.

At the SEA Games, a flood - hopefully - of locals will arrive and inspect the Sports Hub with a magnifying glass. So will our neighbours, who will be in town, patrolling this gleaming edifice and wondering what the boasting was about.

The Sports Hub - whose many stadiums I have been privileged to walk and enjoy - can't complain too vehemently about this inquisition. As with athletes, they must feel our forgiveness.

Yet also, unquestionably, the endless pressure of our expectation.

rohitb@sph.com.sg