Sports Hub a massive project that cannot fail: Oon Jin Teik

Mr Oon Jin Teik said he would do all he can to ensure the Sports Hub continues to thrive. PHOTO: THE BUSINESS TIMES

SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - At a little over three years old, the Singapore Sports Hub complex in Kallang is still considered to be in its infancy.

But the S$1.33-billion project has already had its fair share of negative publicity since opening its doors in June 2014, be it pitch woes at the National Stadium, complaints about the sound system during some major concerts, or the sudden resignation of its chief executive officer earlier this year.

But if there's one firm believer in the long-term success of the 35ha Sports Hub, it is Oon Jin Teik, the man who is now at the helm of one of the largest sports infrastructure public-private partnership (PPP) projects in the world.

In an interview with The Business Times, the 54-year-old acting CEO makes it clear that, so long as he is in charge, he would do all he can to ensure the Sports Hub continues to thrive.

"I think everyone knows where my passion lies. To me, this project cannot fail," says the former national swimmer during the 45-minute chat at his modest office located inside the National Stadium. "We have gone through a few phases of development and now it's our fourth year of operations. We are definitely not in a stable state yet, but we are working hard towards getting there."

Mr Oon left his job as a top executive with Mainboard-listed water solutions company Hyflux in April 2014 and joined the Sports Hub a month later as chief operating officer, a role he still continues to perform today.

He was named acting CEO in May this year after his predecessor, Manu Sawhney, abruptly resigned from SportsHub Pte Ltd (SHPL).

The latter quit after an anonymous complaint was sent to SHPL that contained details of his business decisions and treatment of staff.

It's safe to say that Mr Oon is probably the only employee at the Sports Hub who knows the project inside-out, having been involved since the project was first conceptualised a decade ago.

Mr Oon was the CEO of the Singapore Sports Council - a statutory board now known as Sport Singapore - from 2004 to 2010.

One of the major milestones reached during his six-year tenure was the awarding of the Sports Hub contract to a consortium to design, build, finance and operate the facility.

The Sports Hub is a PPP between the Singapore government and SHPL, a consortium of four equity partners. The four companies are: Infrared Capital Partners, Dragages Singapore (the design and building contractor), Cushman & Wakefield Facilities & Engineering (the facility management partner), and Global Spectrum Asia (the venue operations partner).

The consortium has a 25-year contract to design, build, finance and operate the facility, in return for an annual payment from the government.

The many different partners, both internal and external ones, adds to the complexity of the role the Sports Hub faces on a daily basis, says Mr Oon. He speaks of the need to build up a high level of trust with all the stakeholders, be it the government, corporates or the thousands of people who regularly throng the Sports Hub's different venues.

"You must build the trust, and speak openly from all angles. Take the problems we had with the National Stadium pitch in our early days, for instance. I spoke very openly, I came forward to apologise. I said yes, we have a problem, and let's fix it," says Mr Oon.

On the whole, he feels the Sports Hub has more than stamped its mark on the global stage as a facility that can attract the best events - sports or non-sports - and put on a good show for the spectators.

The Women's Tennis Association has a five-year contract to stage its season-ending WTA Finals here, while the International Champions Cup - a football tournament involving Europe's most famous teams - has a four-year deal in place until 2020.

The likes of Brazil, Japan and Argentina have brought their football stars to play at the 55,000-seater National Stadium, and the Sports Hub was the primary venue for the biennial Southeast Asian Games in 2015.

Some of the most popular musical acts have performed at the Sports Hub in recent months, including Coldplay, Britney Spears, Ed Sheeran and Jacky Cheung.

Last Saturday, nearly 14,500 people attended the Community Play Day, a quarterly event to encourage Singaporeans to participate in sports and fitness activities.

"I think we've got good reviews and positive feedback overall. Does this mean we are perfect? We will never be perfect. Nothing is smooth. We just have to keep pushing ahead, and there are always areas to improve on," says Mr Oon.

When pressed about his long-term position, he prefers not to be drawn into any talk of whether the board would be confirming him as the permanent CEO any time soon.

"I don't think I came back to the Sports Hub looking at titles. What I have is a very deep feeling for this project, having been involved in it since the beginning," he adds.

"When I was approached (to join) after my stint at Hyflux, I saw it as an opportunity to help this project succeed. The title that is given to me isn't an issue. The main thing is whether we are all heading towards the right direction, and I'm confident that we are."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.