Hybrid sports events blending virtual, physical races here to stay, says SportSG chief

Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon had incorporated a virtual race and featured augmented reality in 2020.
Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon had incorporated a virtual race and featured augmented reality in 2020.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Organisers of sports events in Singapore have had to pivot and look at ways to stage their events virtually, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic emptying out the calendar.

While live sports have gradually returned to the Republic since October last year, Sport Singapore (SportSG) chief executive Lim Teck Yin believes that virtual events have a lot to offer.

Speaking at the launch of OCBC Cycle 2021 on Thursday (March 25), Lim said: "Virtual races are very important components of mass participation events today, and going into the future, they offer you opportunities to really extend participation beyond what our physical events used to be able to do.

"It allows you to even consider how to expand the overseas market to be part of that event as well. It really offers a lot of space for more creativity and innovation."

Last year's Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon (SCSM), which typically attracts 50,000 runners yearly, incorporated a virtual race and featured augmented reality for the first time.

Over 12,000 participants took part in that edition of the SCSM, with about 37 per cent of them based overseas.

While last year's OCBC Cycle was held in a virtual format, this year's event will adopt a blended approach.

The Speedway Championships comprising three categories - Club, Women and Corporate - will be held on-site along Stadium Drive, while its five mass participation events will take place virtually.

OCBC's head of group brand and communications Koh Ching Ching believes that a hybrid model can provide more options for participants.

For example, it would have been a lot harder to introduce the two new long distance virtual ride categories - 100km and 200km - if they were held in physical formats.

Koh said: "For me, future sporting events will be of a blended model.

"Going forward, because of the expensive cost of staging physical events due to road closures and all that, the virtual rides have allowed us to extend the distance.

"So we are likely to be a mix of virtual and on-site because we don't want to take away that energy and excitement from on-site races or even mass participation."

SportSG launched the "Blended" initiative last October, with $5 million set aside for event organisers, event management companies, private academies and clubs to engage Singaporeans via "phygital" hybrid events.

With virtual events here to stay, Lim feels that there is a lot more that can be done to improve participants' experiences.

He said: "It's really now up to all of us to think of ways to enhance those experiences to make it fun and enjoyable, and to engage the community."

Referring to the OCBC Cycle, he added: "There's room in the future beyond this year's event to be able to speak to the cycling community to say, what would you like to see in the OCBC Cycle event? How can it become an interesting exploration of Singapore?

"These are all the sorts of ideas that can be brought to the table and for this event, I think they've done amazingly well."