It must not be game over after SEA Games finishes

Minister Wong wants event to ingrain sporting culture among public, firms

WITH just three weeks to go before the SEA Games cauldron is lit, the June 5-16 event has hit its final phase of preparation.

But even as athletes, volunteers and venues are gearing up for the region's biggest multi-sport event, the success of the Games will depend more on what is left behind - and continues - after 12 days of competition.

"The most important priority is to have a good event with high standards," Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said on Tuesday when he met members of the print media.

"But we want this event to be one that will leave behind a legacy for sports in Singapore."

Mr Wong, who is also chairman of the SEA Games steering committee, hopes that the biennial affair will be a "people's Games" and is optimistic that it will help further ingrain a sporting culture in the Singaporean psyche.

He said: "We said from the outset that we want Singaporeans to take ownership (of the Games) - that's something that is important.

"This should not just be an event that comes and goes... this is Singaporeans' event, something we should take pride in. We want it to further catalyse our sporting culture, further add to it."

Minister of State Sam Tan, who was also at the discussion, agreed, noting: "This is really the start of a fire. We want to see the interest continue to grow... to make sure that the legacy of the Games will not die at the end of the conclusion of the event.

"Leaving (a) sporting culture in Singaporeans' daily lives... (is) not easy to do but it's a dream that we must strive for."

For Mr Wong, the Games will go beyond just triumph and medals in the sporting arena. One other measure of success is whether Singaporeans are moved to be involved in the event.

He acknowledged that this can come in many forms, be it as a volunteer, supporting in person at the venues hosting the 36 sports, cheering athletes online or through television broadcasts, or going to one of the sports carnivals that will be held in the country.

"One thing I hope for is that every Singaporean at least gets involved in the SEA Games in some way or another," he said.

"We hope that Singaporeans will start to take part and participate in sports, and even if they don't, that the SEA Games will change our culture of viewing of sports."

With ticket sales going well - the opening ceremony and fencing competition are sold out while others like swimming and volleyball are selling out fast - Mr Wong wants the Games to help get Singaporeans back into stadiums, fields, pools and indoor arenas to watch the action live.

Using Singapore's participation in the Malaysia Cup as an example, he said: "There was something special about coming together for that kind of experience.

"There's something different about watching sports live and watching athletes in a live sporting event.

"We're trying to refresh and revitalise that kind of a culture."

Another legacy he is hoping for is for companies and organisations to see investment in sports as part of their identity, rather than a form of "national service".

"Part of that sporting culture is you need to get corporates behind Team Singapore and have that mindset shift, away from thinking of sports as an expense, to thinking of how they want to identify with it as a corporate brand," said Mr Wong, who noted that there have been encouraging signs from businesses.

"Companies will be interested in sports when they see Singaporeans interested in sports.

"That's why the SEA Games can have such a catalytic effect. It takes a platform like it where, hopefully, all the pieces come together and they start to click."

maychen@sph.com.sg

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