Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong has hailed blended sporting events that incorporate virtual and physical elements, and noted the business opportunities they can provide the Singapore sports industry.
He was among the 16 guests and celebrities in the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon's (SCSM) Race As One live show yesterday.
It featured elements of SCSM's Grand Finale Celebration Experience at Gardens by the Bay and guests, including Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin and Mr Tong, ran a half-marathon relay for the SCSM 2020 Charity Challenge.
The 19th edition of the SCSM, which runs till today, incorporates a virtual race and features augmented reality (AR) for the first time. The annual SCSM traditionally attracts over 50,000 runners every year. About 50 per cent were foreigners last year.
As at Dec 3, this year's SCSM Grand Finale hybrid race saw over 4,000 foreign runners taking part, 35 per cent of total sign-ups.
Mr Tong acknowledged that the different format was brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
"Covid-19 has changed the way sports events are organised. Through technology, we can... (give) participants a more engaging and interactive experience within safety guidelines," he said in an e-mail interview.
"For example, digital technologies can provide real-time feedback to participants, complementing social and entertainment elements of a sporting activity."
He hopes blended sports projects in Singapore can gain regional or international traction and help contribute to a more vibrant sports sector here amid the challenges of Covid-19.
The Grand Finale Celebration Experience also saw runners start to collect their race entitlements.
Participants had to pre-register for one of 32 half-hour time slots over the weekend. Only 25 people were allowed in the Flower Field Hall per session. Other safety measures such as temperature taking were in place.
Despite the different format, runners were excited to collect their goodie bags and pose for photos.
Yue Chin Beng, who signed up for the Rouvy VR 10km with his friend Lau Hock Bee, liked that they could pose at a backdrop of the finishing line this year.
While he could not run in a crowd and pace himself against other runners this year, Yue, 60, was happy to have a "buddy run" with Lau, 61, as the two tackled the 10km distance together at East Coast Park. Lau liked the convenience of choosing when and where he could complete this year's run.
Ong Ling Lee, director of sports at Singapore Tourism Board (STB), said this hybrid and immersive format for events is here to stay.
"For now, virtual formats allow visitors to have a taste of what they hope to see during an event and when they eventually travel," she said. "However, it will not fully replace the excitement that comes with experiencing an event physically. As such, we hope to be able to welcome visitors in person for our sporting events in Singapore when the time is right."
On the possibility of the return of more marquee events and more spectators next year, she said: "STB has curated a vibrant calendar of world-class sporting events over the years, and we look forward to welcoming sports fans back to experience Singapore's innovative and exceptional events when the time is right."
This follows the resumption of live sporting events here. Mixed martial arts promotion One Championship's last two events allowed 250 spectators, while 200 fans were let into Our Tampines Hub for the SPL season finale between Tampines Rovers and Geylang International yesterday.
Mr Tong added that the authorities are working on bringing back more events for Singaporeans too.
"As many Singaporeans are eager to participate and enjoy sports events, we are working towards resuming more large-scale events in a safe manner," he said.