Golf: HSBC Women's World Championship set for Singapore return in 2021

Organisers are hoping to allow some fans into the Sentosa Golf Club grounds though that number is dependent on the Covid-19 situation then. PHOTO: HSBC WOMEN'S WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - The HSBC Women's World Championship, one of Singapore's marquee sports events which was cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, looks set to return in 2021 after its title sponsor announced on Monday (Dec 14) it has renewed its commitment to the tournament on a multi-year deal.

The US$1.5 million (S$2 million) golf tournament was originally scheduled for Feb 27-March 1 this year at the Sentosa Golf Club (SGC) but was called off two weeks before its planned start.

The 2021 edition is likely to be held in its usual February-March slot. It has been part of the LPGA Tour's early season Asian Swing that includes stops in Australia and Thailand, and regularly features a world-class field with most of the top-10 players and Major champions.

It was established in 2008 and the last contract extension was from 2018 to this year.

In response to media queries, a tournament spokesman told The Straits Times on Tuesday organisers are working with the Government to develop health and safety protocols to ensure the competition complies with Singapore's Dorscon and Phase Three guidelines around the resumption of mass events.

Overseas players and officials will undergo Covid-19 tests before and upon arrival here, the spokesman added.

Organisers are hoping to allow some fans into the SGC grounds though that number is dependent on the Covid-19 situation then. Last year, the event saw 32,000 fans attend across four days.

Singapore professional Amanda Tan, 20, who played in last year's edition after winning the regional qualifying event, said her last tournament was in January in Taiwan and was looking forward to the HSBC event returning in 2021.

She added: "I do get worried since a few countries are experiencing second or even third waves now but I know the organisers and even the club will implement the necessary precautions."

The return of the HSBC event is positive news as the Republic has been easing measures in recent months to allow for the return of live elite sport.

The Singapore Premier League football competition restarted on Oct 17 while mixed martial art organisation One Championship staged live fights on Oct 9 and allowed 250 fans for the first time on Oct 30 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

One's third show here with a live audience, also up to 250 spectators, will be this Friday.

The HSBC tournament will be significant due to the scale of operations. Last year's event featured an international field of 63 players comprising 16 nationalities. Most of the golfers will bring their own caddies and, including foreign officials and tournament staff, staging the event next year will involve at least a few hundred people.

The One Championship live shows have been part of a pilot project the Government hopes will help identify a model that can be widely implemented so that more large-scale events can resume safely in Singapore.

Associate Professor Alex Cook, vice-dean of research at National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, had some reservations but noted: "If the golfers and their team members are being tested frequently throughout the event, then provided social distancing measures are in place, it should be possible to do this tournament without too much risk, both to participants and the Singapore population."

The nature of golf being an outdoor sport will help allow adequate spacing and reduced risk of transmission though he said the participants "should be given a relatively controlled itinerary, ideally with additional tests if in Singapore for longer than a few days".

He added: "Ideally those who come into contact with the athletes should get tests as well. The usual rules on mask-wearing and TraceTogether should apply."

There were two positive coronavirus cases detected ahead of One's Inside the Matrix event on Oct 30 and another case before the Dec 4 show. All three individuals arrived from overseas and were identified as part of established protocols from organisers here.

These include the requirement for all foreign-based athletes, cornermen and staff to be isolated until they receive a negative test result, after which they will follow a strictly controlled itinerary that has been pre-approved.

Foreign-based athletes and One's production crew are also required to be tested four times - before they depart their country, on arrival in Singapore, as well as before and after their fight.

The HSBC tournament spokesman said: "The safety and well-being of everyone involved remains the absolute priority. The organisers will work closely with the relevant authorities to ensure that strict protocols are in place should a positive case be detected."

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