SportSG vows to clamp down on reselling of public sports facility bookings

A man seen assigning courts and collecting money from social badminton players before signing them into the OCBC Arena, on Jan 20, 2021. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - Sport Singapore (SportSG) has vowed to clamp down on the "unscrupulous practice of a few ActiveSG members" who re-sell bookings of its sports facilities for a profit.

In a statement sent to The Straits Times on Friday (Feb 5), Sng Hock Lin, chief of ActiveSG, said: "Such behaviour is wrong, and deprives other ActiveSG members who genuinely want to play sports at our facilities at affordable prices."

His remarks came on the back of two ST reports which documented the practice that has affected recreational athletes in sports such as badminton, tennis and football. Both stories gave voice to many members of the public who were disgusted and frustrated with the practice and seeming lack of action on the part of facility owners.

In his reply, Sng added that SportSG has been monitoring the accounts of these resellers and has "blacklisted and suspended 255 accounts".

He noted that SportSG has "already stepped up on-site enforcement measures", where hirers of the courts are required to be present or the booking will be cancelled. ST understands that this policy has been in place since last year and that the hirer is also required to be part of the playing party. Noting that such measures may inconvenience genuine sports enthusiasts, he said countermeasures will be deployed "judiciously", but he warned that enforcement will intensify if these practices go unabated.

He acknowledged that some of these errant ActiveSG members "have gone further to encourage others to 'lend' their accounts to them for such purposes" and that stricter penalties are being considered against such individuals.

"These could include increasing suspensions and permanently barring them and their accomplices from booking all public facilities, and working with other facility owners to do the same," he added.

He reiterated that "on-selling is absolutely prohibited", and urged members of the public not to procure public sports facilities from these resellers. He warned that those who do so risk being denied use of the facilities when they show up at the courts because SportSG will cancel bookings that bear "evidence of on-selling".

He added that ActiveSG will continue to remind members not to deploy bots as "exploiting the system and profiteering are infringements of Sport Singapore's terms of use for ActiveSG facilities".

Members are encouraged to contact SportSG to report such instances.

He also appealed for cooperation so that the booking system of such facilities can remain "fair and affordable to all genuine sport enthusiasts".

An expert ST spoke to said that besides on-site checks, there are several ways to combat the practice of reselling using technology.

Liu Siyong, the general manger of technology service provider CFB Bots who is also a recreational tennis player, said: "They (facility owners) could implement a web application firewall that can detect access by bots. These are tools that are available commercially that can prevent automated bots. What this application does is to basically stop bots from launching actions on the site. These are used on plenty of sites and they are usually used to guard against sinister acts like users wanting to crash a specific site for cases of sabotage.

"An even simpler way is to implement captcha, where a user/bot would need to identify pictures.

"But one reason companies/organisations may not want to turn it on is because it creates inconvenience for the user."

Asked if there could be an increase in the use of such bots or artificial intelligence being used to game the system, he replied: "I think the question for these people is if there is a commercial incentive to do so. If the market is lucrative enough, you will get people doing whatever they can to try and profit off it.

"The game will always evolve and it is like a cat-and-mouse game, where the user will always try to get past the measures put in place.

"But what I would tell these people making bookings through illegal means is this - in this digital world, it is difficult to do things anonymously. You will always leave behind a digital footprint. I would urge them to think of the consequences. Technology is meant to be used for good and not in such a way as to make profits off public facilities."

Some welcomed SportSG's stance, with recreational badminton player S. Levain, 27, saying: "It's good to know that the authorities are serious about wanting to change this situation... I hope the booking process improves."

However, Elynn Yang, a 35-year-old executive assistant who is also a recreational badminton player, remained somewhat sceptical.

She noted: "There are still some loopholes. Even if one account gets banned, they can create new accounts.

"Ensuring that hirers of courts must be present can be one way (of enforcement), but will they really verify IC or will they just check the receipt of the booking? The receipt can once again be sent as a screenshot.

"The person who booked the court can be there to join the game for a while and do this for show. They can still let the rest of the players play and collect money since there is nobody there that can stop them from doing so."

Noting the lucrative nature of the practice, with football pitches for instance being re-sold at a profit of $180, she added: "If one sees the opportunity to continue to make (easy) money by exploiting the loopholes, why would they not continue?"

Another keen shuttler, Kenny Koh, 28, lamented: "The authority can suspend a user as a form of punishment and reduce the mass bookings for awhile. But that doesn't educate the community on the core issue of not taking advantage of the system and being more inclusive."

Asked to comment on counter-measures needed to curb the practice of profiteering, he added: "That would be a waste of resources, isn't it? And it is solving the problem at a very superficial level.

"This is supposed to be a leisure activity... imposing measures to this extent is defeating the purpose. We shouldn't have to resort to that."

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