Big stadium needs big name

Some feel no athlete has had enough impact for it to be named after him

FOR the National Stadium or Singapore Indoor Stadium (SIS) to be named after a personality, it would have to be someone who has had a big enough impact on the country.

And for several within the local sports fraternity, no one fits that bill - at least not yet.

The possibility of naming both stadiums after personalities was raised by Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong on Monday, following OCBC Group sealing a $50 million, 15-year naming-rights deal with the Singapore Sports Hub.

And, while the deal allows OCBC to carry its brand on venues within the 35ha park, both the National Stadium and SIS are off limits to commercial branding. But they could be named after individuals the nation wishes to celebrate and remember.

As far as former sprint legend C. Kunalan is concerned, only an individual who has made a huge impact should be accorded the honour of having a national stadium named after him or her.

Said the two-time Olympian: "He or she must have really influenced the progress of sport in Singapore and, until now, we haven't had anyone who's done that.

"Everyone has played a small part. No one person can take credit for Singapore's progress in sport."

Said sports historian Nick Aplin, who penned a book on Singapore's Olympians: "You'd want someone who had made an impact after independence because of national identity. At the moment, I can't think of a good one."

International Olympic Committee member from Singapore Ng Ser Miang is not against the idea of honouring either of the stadiums after a personality. But he too struggled to name someone who deserved that accolade.

Said Ng, who is a vice-president of the Singapore National Olympic Council: "I think if there's someone important enough for Singapore, then it's a good idea and it doesn't matter whether he or she is a politician or athlete.

"But at the moment there's no one in mind. It has to be someone who has made enough of a sporting impact and is symbolic enough."

Naming community buildings and infrastructure after personalities is not a new concept to Singapore. The Benjamin Sheares Bridge, along the East Coast Parkway, is named after Singapore's second president.

Schools have also been named after the late presidents Yusof Ishak and Wee Kim Wee.

Previously, there had been suggestions to honour former Law Minister E.W. Barker, who was instrumental in pushing for sports complexes in housing estates and was seen largely as the man behind the former National Stadium, for his contribution to sport.

But those The Straits Times spoke to felt that, should a name adorn the main stadiums of the $1.33-billion Sports Hub, it should be a sportsman.

Said Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck, himself a long-time sports enthusiast: "He or she has to have affected the Singapore sporting landscape and inspired individuals. A lot of people might have achieved glory but not have touched the hearts of people."

He used the example of the Anthony Nesty Indoor Stadium in Suriname, named after the swimmer who is the South American country's first and only Olympic medallist.

He said: "Anthony Nesty inspired a very small nation (with a population of about 567,000) that things are possible. That's very historic. We have to be very sure about this person's influence, make sure it's worthwhile and can continue to inspire generations to come."

Singapore may not have had any athletes with an impact like Nesty, but Nominated Member of Parliament Nicholas Fang believes the pioneers who set the momentum going have done enough to gain recognition.

Said Fang, who is also chief of the Singapore Modern Pentathlon Association: "I think the stadium should be named after athletes who have blazed a trail for Singapore in the early days."

He named former athletes like weightlifter Tan Howe Liang, Singapore's first Olympic medallist, swimmer Ang Peng Siong, and Kunalan as those that fit the bill.

Yet, while a decision may have been made to exclude the two main stadiums from commercial branding, Aplin and Kunalan say a case can be made for selling such naming rights.

Said Aplin: "There's no harm in linking it (the stadiums) to sponsors. It would only run for a few years and it's not a permanent fixture. But if you name it after someone, then that's forever."

Added Kunalan: "Even if we did have someone worthy enough to have the stadium named after him, I'd still prefer to give it to a corporate sponsor who is willing to put in $100 million for the good of sport."

maychen@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Chua Siang Yee