Sports Hub to host more school events

"If you look at my experience and background, I've always enjoyed a challenge and complex situations,"says Sports Hub chief Manu Sawhney as he reflects on his first 100 days in the job. When asked if the Sports Hub was overpriced to the point of turn
"If you look at my experience and background, I've always enjoyed a challenge and complex situations,"says Sports Hub chief Manu Sawhney as he reflects on his first 100 days in the job. When asked if the Sports Hub was overpriced to the point of turning away potential partners, he pointed to the National Stadium's 2016 calendar, noting that it has 40 event dates slated for this year.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

It wants students to get a feel of competing in world-class venues, says chief executive

Youngsters will have more opportunities to not just sit in the stands but be part of the action at the Singapore Sports Hub.

As part of his five-year gameplan for the Kallang showpiece, chief executive Manu Sawhney said talks have been held with the Ministry of Education to stage more school competitions across its 35ha facility. The aim, he noted, is for students to "feel what it's like to compete in a world-class setting" at venues such as the 55,000-seat National Stadium, the Indoor Stadium and the OCBC Arena.

"We are looking at hosting the school tournaments for netball, basketball, swimming and water polo as part of our comprehensive community engagement plan," said Mr Sawhney. "We aim to make the place close to Singaporean hearts."

For a start, the National Schools' Championships opening ceremony will be held at the Hub tomorrow. It will join premier sporting events such as the HSBC World RugbySevens Series and the WTA Finals Singapore as part of a calendar of 330 events at the Hub this year, part of a two-pronged approach to catering to both sports fans and the larger Singapore community.

Speaking to The Straits Times yesterday, Mr Sawhney reflected on his first 100 days in the job, even as the Hub faced criticism over high rental costs and questions over the durability of the National Stadium pitch. Cost derailed plans to host the Merlion Cup football tournament at the National Stadium this year, while there were doubts over the National Day Parade coming to the stadium over the same matter.

"If you look at my experience and background, I've always enjoyed a challenge and complex situations," said the 48-year-old Singaporean, who has over 25 years of leadership experience in the Asian media, entertainment and sports industries.

Emphasising the Hub's openness to criticism, Mr Sawhney said it is "committed" to Singapore's interest and must learn to "adapt" to challenges, words he repeated over 20 times in the hour-long interview.

Admitting "mistakes were made" in the past, such as an $800,000 Desso GrassMaster surface that failed to grow properly under the domed roof, Mr Sawhney said the current "lay and play" surface has proven to be a robust long-term solution. Workshops are being held with potential hirers so "they can understand and empathise where we are coming from". A pitch-protection policy has also been introduced to ensure hirers minimise the risk of damaging the pitch.

"A damaged pitch doesn't help anyone - time is wasted trying to fix it and it certainly doesn't add to our profitability," said Mr Sawhney, who replaced Frenchman Philippe Collin-Delavaud in October.

When asked if the Sports Hub was overpriced to the point of turning away potential partners, he pointed to the National Stadium's 2016 calendar. "We have 40 event dates at the stadium slated for this year. The Stade de France (in Paris) had 17 last year, and their benchmark is usually between 20 and 25," he said. "It's in our best interests to do as many events as possible. We are eager to listen to promoters as long as it doesn't jeopardise the financial viability and long-term sustainability of the Sports Hub."

Yet changing public perceptions of the Sports Hub after a tough first 18 months could be one of Mr Sawhney's toughest challenges. He said: "My ultimate goal remains the same - when people in the sporting and entertainment world look for a place to hold their event, the Sports Hub is right on their radar."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2016, with the headline 'Sports Hub to host more school events'. Print Edition | Subscribe