Huge demand as six private operators join 10-pax pilot; SportSG expects more to be added

People playing futsal at The Cage on Nov 19, 2021. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - Sport Singapore (SportSG) has received more than 50 applications from private operators to join the pilot programme which allows up to 10 fully vaccinated people to play together, it said on Friday (Nov 19).

Six facilities that cater to team sports like futsal, floorball and badminton have been approved as of 6pm on Friday, the last day of the application window, and the national agency said it is working with applicants so more can come on board in the next few weeks.

Previously, only selected ActiveSG and People's Association venues were included in the pilot.

For operators like The Cage, which runs six futsal courts in Kallang, there has been a huge spike in interest since they begun operations under the pilot on Tuesday.

That day alone, they had to deal with more than 400 unread messages from customers.

It brought in two extra staff from its Turf City branch to cope with the increased demands, said its co-founder, Mr Rajesh Mulani.

"We are excited to see people playing football. I've got a good team who are excited to feel the buzz back. It's been crazy busy, but it's nice that you're doing work and people are coming in and enjoying themselves," he added.

Besides being fully vaccinated, participants must do an on-site antigen rapid test (ART) at the venue 30 minutes before each game and produce a valid negative result there before the activity.

Some operators have had to double the manpower on the ground to ensure these protocols are followed.

Floorball facility Red Quarters joins the pilot on Sunday and has spent almost $1,000 on equipment such as cones, barriers and poles to set up different zones for registration and vaccination checks as well as to ensure there is no mingling between different groups of players.

Ms Geraldine Tan, chief executive of sports company Coldcut, which owns the site in Kallang, expects it will take some time for people to familiarise themselves with the various rules. "Our crew has been thoroughly briefed and will assist patrons when needed."

Venues like the Singapore Badminton Hall in the Singapore Expo Convention and Exhibition Centre, which joined the pilot last Sunday, welcomed the greater flexibility afforded beyond the two-person rule.

It has 22 courts, of which 17 still follow the current restrictions, while five courts are able to host up to four doubles pairs.

Mr Richard Tan, chief executive of Arina Holdings, which runs the facility, said these five have been fully booked during the weekday peak periods between 8pm and 10pm.

"It's a welcome change seeing as how sales dropped by 60 per cent to 80 per cent before this. Despite the extra cost of the ART, playing doubles is still a preferred choice for all the badminton players," he said.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been brutal to many businesses such as The Cage. Mr Mulani had previously estimated his monthly running costs, excluding rent, to be between $70,000 and $80,000; and at its worst during Covid-19, revenues fell 90 per cent.

The Cage has also been operating at reduced 50 per cent capacity, but he hopes to increase that to 60 per cent to 70 per cent in the coming weeks and is counting on his base of loyal customers such as former Singapore international Isa Halim.

Mr Isa, 35, was at The Cage on Friday and thrilled to be playing futsal again after almost two years. "I've been playing in the cage for some time, even during my professional days. I love it here and have made a lot of friends here."

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