Why Singapore is dreaming big now

This story was first published in The Straits Times on June 28, 2013

IT OCCUPIES but a small section of the Singapore Sports Council's Kallang headquarters.

Manned by a team of just five full-time staff, its operations are modest by most standards.

But that has not stopped the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) from dreaming big.

Barely three years after staging the inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in 2010, Singapore is again hosting the Olympic fraternity, this time for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Athletes' Commission and Forum.

Over the next few days, more than 100 delegates, including IOC members and athletes, past and present, will tackle issues ranging from doping to athletes' role in the Olympic movement. They will also be engaging Singaporean youth, passing on life lessons as well as sharing inspirational stories of sporting excellence.

It is little wonder that SNOC vice-president Ng Ser Miang, one of six contenders to succeed Jacques Rogge as IOC president, has dubbed his Singapore office one of the world's busiest national Olympic committees (NOCs).

"There is hardly a dull moment," quipped the 64-year-old.

Indeed, since becoming the first Singaporean to join the IOC as a member in 1998, Ng has been instrumental in both introducing the sporting world to Singapore and Singapore to the Olympic movement.

The Republic's introduction to the big league of world sport started in 2001, when the heads of major international sports bodies gathered here for the General Association of International Sports Federations congress.

But it was only in 2005 that the world first took notice of Singapore's Olympic ambitions.

The staging of the 117th IOC Session - which brought a Who's Who to Singapore, including then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former US First Lady Hillary Clinton and football superstar David Beckham - did not just strengthen Singapore's image as an efficient organiser. It also altered a mindset within the country's psyche.

"For many years, we thought of the Olympic movement as just the Olympic Games. And if you are not an Olympian, you are not there," said Ng, who was chairman of the Singapore Sports Council from 1991-2002.

"But when we hosted the 2005 Session, had political leaders in town and the world watching as the 2012 host city was revealed, it hit us that Singapore was part of this bigger entity.

"It broke down the perception that the Olympic movement was something high and mighty and out of reach."

The success of the 2005 Session went a long way to persuading the Singapore Government to bid for the 2010 inaugural YOG.

Although the budget for the Games ballooned from $104 million to $387 million, the Games brought about many positive spin-offs, including record tourism arrivals and the marketing of Singapore as an international brand.

But perhaps more importantly, the Games got the buy-in of the nation's youth.

Said Ng: "Till today, I have people telling me about the positive experience they had during the YOG.

"The Games mobilised the youth of Singapore, gave them a voice and created opportunities for them to be involved, as athletes, as young journalists, even as young ambassadors through the Games' Culture and Education Programme."

Incidentally, the YOG journey was what convinced Ng that there was more the Olympic movement could do for the youth of the world.

In fact, the youth will be at the centre of his plans should he beat Germany's Thomas Bach, Puerto Rico's Richard Carrion, Taiwan's Wu Ching-kuo, Switzerland's Denis Oswald and Ukraine's Sergey Bubka to lead the world's most powerful sporting body.

"There are seven billion people in the world, and when half of them are below the age of 25, you can't deny that this group are the Olympic movement's main constituents," said Ng.

"It's our responsibility to reach out and engage them, through the international sporting federations, NOCs and the governments of the world."

He has an ambitious plan to expand the IOC's Youth Sport Development Centre programme, which aim to build sports facilities in various parts of the world, giving young athletes and local communities access to quality sporting facilities.

Launched in 2010 with the opening of a multi-sport facility in Zambia, the IOC is set to open its second such centre in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

But Ng is keen to ramp up the programme, and wants the IOC to commit to building 80 centres over five continents over the next eight years.

It is a goal which will require a lot of funding, but he believes the IOC's like-minded sponsors can help fulfil his vision.

He said: "We have, in the IOC, some of the best companies in the world as our partners. They have a global outreach, and their target is also the youth."

Yet in order to achieve his goal, he would have to do something that has never been done before - become the first Asian be elected to the office of the IOC president.

Of the IOC's eight presidents in its 119-year history, only American Avery Brundage (1952-1972) was not a European.

But Ng believes the IOC is ready for a change. He cites how the Olympic movement is increasingly becoming more global, with Asian countries hosting two of the last seven Summer Olympics and Rio de Janeiro set to become the first South American city to host the Games.

"I'm a Singaporean, I'm an Asian, but I'm also a global citizen," said Ng, who is Singapore's Ambassador to Norway.

"The movement has become much more universal. I've been an IOC member since 1998 and showed that there can be a first in the IOC. When Singapore won the bid to host the Youth Olympics, no European, no American, no African country had hosted it before. The IOC trusted Singapore and I think we earned their trust."

Ng has two months to persuade enough fellow members that he is the man to lead the IOC. He will find out in Buenos Aires in September if he is successful.

But few will underestimate the man who put Singapore on the IOC map.

marclim@sph.com.sg


The manifesto of each candidate’s campaign is confidential and shared only among the IOC’s 100 members. Here is a brief introduction to the six hopefuls and what they are likely to centre their bid on (in the order they announced their candidacy).

ST 20130628 SPTBACH 3722756m

Name: Thomas Bach

Age: 59

Nationality: Germany

Occupation: Lawyer

Year joined IOC: 1991

Role in IOC: Second vice-president

Seen by many as the front runner in the race to be IOC president.

With Unity In Diversity as the central theme to his message, Bach is pushing for flexibility in determining the sports in the Olympic programme, and introducing measures to ensure that the Games will stay as "the most attractive event in the world".


ST 20130628 SPTNG 3722760m

Name: Ng Ser Miang

Age: 64

Nationality: Singapore

Occupation: Businessman

Year joined IOC: 1998

Role in IOC: First vice-president

As the man who led the successful staging of the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010, Ng's message is one that focuses on the youth, specifically by placing them at the centre of the Olympic Movement. He also believes in helping IOC members to be more involved in the organisation's affairs, as well as reviewing the size and cost of the Olympics.


ST 20130628 SPTCARRION 3722761m

Name: Richard Carrion

Age: 60

Nationality: Puerto Rico

Occupation: Banker

Year joined IOC: 1990

Role in IOC: Member

The man who negotiated the IOC's multi-billion-dollar television rights deals, Carrion is proposing raising the age limit for IOC members (currently 70). He also proposes a new system for distributing Olympic revenue among the organisation, sports federations, national Olympic committees and other bodies.


ST 20130628 SPTWU 3722750m

Name: Wu Ching-kuo

Age: 66

Nationality: Taiwan

Occupation: Architect

Year joined IOC: 1988

Role in IOC: Executive board member

Also the president of the International Boxing Association, Wu's election slogan is Beyond Olympism, Together.

He is putting an emphasis on educating the young on issues such as the fight against doping and match-fixing.


ST 20130628 SPTOSWALD 3722763m

Name: Denis Oswald

Age: 66

Nationality: Switzerland

Occupation: Lawyer

Year joined IOC: 1991

Role in IOC: Member

With experience as an arbitrator at sport's top court, he has named his campaign My 5 Rings - referring to the Olympic rings - with five main themes. He believes that more sports could be added to the Summer Games by cutting back on events within the existing sports. He is also proposing to simplify the process for cities to bid to host an Olympics.


ST 20130628 SPTBUBKA 3722752m

Name: Sergey Bubka

Age: 49

Nationality: Ukraine

Occupation: Businessman

Year joined IOC: 2008

Role in IOC: Executive board member

The youngest of the candidates, the Olympic pole vault champion has had a meteoric rise in sports administration. The vice-president of the International Association of Athletics Federations and president of the Ukraine National Olympic Committee has voiced his belief that the IOC is obliged to preserve and evolve its values in a changing world and be "a force for good".

This story was first published in The Straits Times on June 28, 2013

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