Football: Sports Hub in talks to host ICC

Ross Barkley scoring for Everton in their eventual 3-1 defeat by Arsenal when the two sides contested the Premier League Asia Trophy at the National Stadium in 2015.
Ross Barkley scoring for Everton in their eventual 3-1 defeat by Arsenal when the two sides contested the Premier League Asia Trophy at the National Stadium in 2015.ST FILE PHOTO

National Stadium may hold high-profile friendly matches among Europe's elite

News that Hong Kong will be hosting the Premier League Asia Trophy may have disappointed local fans, who turned up in record numbers when the event was held here in 2015.

But Singapore could still get its fix of top-class football action this year.

The Straits Times understands that the International Champions Cup (ICC) is set to be held here in July, with a total of three matches to be played at the 55,000-capacity National Stadium.

Talks are believed to be at an advanced stage and have gone beyond preliminary discussions about fees and dates.

Another source said an announcement about the event is expected to be made in March.

In a statement, Singapore Sports Hub senior director for corporate communications and stakeholder management Chin Sau Ho said: "We are in constant contact with event owners and promoters internationally, to present more quality events that add to the vibrancy of the Sports Hub as well as the sporting and lifestyle scene in Singapore."

AN EMERGING, GARGANTUAN MARKET

Some clubs want to build that market, given that size of the (China) market, so those are the realities that we will have to battle with.

MANU SAWHNEY, Singapore Sports Hub chief executive officer, on the competition to host the Premier League Asia Trophy.

As for the Asia Trophy, Chin added that the Sports Hub would be delighted to host it again "should the opportunity arise".

The Singapore Tourism Board is also understood to be involved in the ICC negotiations. Yesterday, STB's director of sports Jean Ng said: "We welcome events that add vibrancy to our sporting landscape and build on Singapore's reputation as a leisure destination."

Last November, Italian businessman Andrea Radrizzani, chairman of media rights group MP & Silva, also told ST about the event, saying that his group had spoken with ICC's organisers to possibly host matches here and in China.

The ICC is an annual club competition featuring top European clubs facing off in pre-season friendly matches around the world.

Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United were among the teams involved last year, with games held in Australia, China, the United States and across Europe.

The ICC will also spruce up the National Stadium's calendar, which has come under the spotlight for its modest line-up.

After all, the Asia Trophy was a smash hit two years ago, with a record 81,974 fans turning up at Kallang over the two match days.

Following the record turnout, Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore said the biennial event had "every reason" to return to Singapore.

But China's recent football spending spree appears to have tilted things in their favour. Chinese Super League teams have splurged on stars including Chelsea's Brazilian duo Oscar and Ramires.

The spree comes after China President Xi Jinping outlined his dream of making his country a football superpower. A football fan, Xi had said earlier that he hoped China could win the World Cup by 2030.

The South China Morning Post reported yesterday that hosting of this year's Asia Trophy will be split between Hong Kong and Shanghai.

English Premier League teams Liverpool and Southampton are two of the three EPL teams involved. A third team will be announced later.

Tellingly, in an earlier interview with ST, Singapore Sports Hub chief executive officer Manu Sawhney hinted at the difficulty of competing against China for the biennial Asia Trophy.

Sawhney, who sits on Manchester United's board, said: "Some clubs want to build that market, given that size of the (China) market, so those are the realities that we will have to battle with."

But, with the ICC poised to be staged here, local fans can at least look forward to world-class action on their doorstep.

Real Madrid fan Jolyon Tan, 28, said: "For many football fans here, it's a rare opportunity to catch some of football's superstars and I imagine they would want to be part of this event.

"The fact that it's hosted at our iconic National Stadium will only add to the atmosphere."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2017, with the headline 'Sports Hub in talks to host ICC'. Print Edition | Subscribe