YOG – a litany of screw-ups

Andrew Loh

On 23 April this year, I wrote an article entitled, “Have we lost our ability to appreciate?” It was a reflective piece questioning if we are able to appreciate the good things which Singapore offers. One of these things which I mentioned was the Youth Olympic Games (YOG). In that article, I said: “The Youth Olympics, which will take place from the 14th to 26th August this year, is another thing we can and should be proud of. And I commend the MCYS team, especially Mr Teo Ser Luck, for successfully winning the bid to bring the games here.”

It’s been three months since I wrote the piece – and many things have gone wrong with the YOG which makes me no longer proud of it. Let me explain my change of heart.

The first instance was when the Straits Times reported the “Give way to YOG vehicle” scheme. “The ruling, which will come into effect during the Youth Olympic Lane validity period between August 5-26, could see motorists face a $130 fine should they fail to give way.”

The ruling riled motorists, especially that they could be fined if they did not give way to these vehicles.

The second instance was Minister for Community, Youth and Sports (MCYS) criticizing Singaporeans for the lukewarm attitude towards the Games and in particular foreign-born sportsmen representing Singapore. The Straits Times, on 23 June, reported the minister, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan thus:

“Dr Balakrishnan referred to those who view Singapore’s foreign-born athletes as ‘less of a Singaporean, or less of a champion’, as ‘small-minded’, ‘unfair’ and ‘very, very selfish’.

‘To deny them the right to call themselves Singaporean is very, very selfish. It’s very unsportsmanlike… They have made great sacrifices to be here,’ he added.”

Then came the tickets farce. First, it was initially reported in May that there were 320,000 tickets up for sale. In July the number inexplicably became 245,000. No explanation of what had happened to 75,000 of these tickets.

Following that, it was trumpeted by the Straits Times that the “YOG tickets [were] selling fast”. “If you want tickets to catch the Youth Olympic Games, you will have to act fast,” the paper said. “Tickets sales to the first Youth Olympic Games have been brisk, with more than 100,000, or close to 50 per cent of tickets, having sold out.”

As it turned out, 80,000 of those 100,000 tickets sold were bought by the Ministry of Education.

In essence, only 20,000 – or some 6 per cent – of the tickets have been bought by the public. A very dismal figure indeed. And to add to the farce, the MOE refuses to disclose how much it paid for the tickets. In the end, as reported by the press, students may end up paying for these tickets.

And speaking of students. Besides being asked to volunteer their time and energy for the Games, they’re also asked to “test” the operational readiness of the Games Village. But here’s the catch. Although the students are used to “test” the Village for the organizers, these same students are made to pay for the one-night stay – to the tune of S$188 per student. 1,000 students are being used as guinea pigs, as it were, to make sure the Village runs smoothly when the athletes arrive.

Obviously, our state-controlled media was trying to put a brave-faced spin on things, but alas, more was to come.

And it came in the form of a budget over-run. Initially the budget for the YOG was S$104 million. In July, it was revealed that it had ballooned to S$387 million. The permanent secretary of the MCYS tried to explain that “the benefits will still continue to outweigh the increased cost.” “Besides $260 million (or 70 per cent of the budget) worth of contracts that has been awarded to local companies, the YOG is also expected to attract about 40,000 foreign visitors, generating a $57 million boom in tourism receipts,” the Straits Times reported.

The question which went unasked and unanswered was: Where did the increase of S$283 million going to come from? In the Budget for 2010, MCYS was allocated some S$1.97 billion. And out of this, S$104 million was for the YOG and the rest for all the other programmes under MCYS’s purview.

Now that the MCYS has to allocate an extra S$283 million to the YOG presumably from its allocated budget for 2010, how will this affect the funding for other areas, such as Comcare (which is for the needy and the poor) and the People’s Association and other areas?

The minister has not addressed these. Neither have the mainstream media asked him about this.

And then there is that cringe-worthy promotional video, featuring local celebrity JJ Lin. It’s been panned by just about everyone who’s seen the clip. Indeed, the artificiality of the video comes across loud and clear and instead of getting Singaporeans excited about the YOG, it has made many embarrassed that it’s being shown on national tv.

Finally, there’s that online poll by Channelnewsasia. As of the time of this writing, 90 per cent (some 3,500) of voters say they were “not interested at all’ in catching any of the games during the YOG.

The YOG has become a litany of screw-ups, one after another. From its Public Relations effort, to the promotional video, from its allocated budget to the pathetic sales of the tickets.

And so, no, I am no longer proud of the YOG.

It has become a total farce and a national embarrassment.

The minister in charge should be held accountable for the utterly horrendous organization of it.

Will he be held responsible and accountable? From recent experience with the floods, the Changi Depot security breach, Mas Selamat’s escape, this seems unlikely.

On the contrary, the local media will undoubtedly bury its head in the sand and continue to trumpet the “success” of the YOG – even as the total lack of enthusiasm among Singaporeans is palpable. In the end, we are made to live with this national embarrassment and a minister who has proved himself to be inept.

He couldn’t even get the planned Sports Hub deal done. The S$1.87 billion project at Kallang will only see the light of day in 2013 – a delay from the initial target of 2011.

And oh, it too has overshot its projected cost – from S$1.2 billion in 2008 (CNA) to S$1.87 billion in 2009 (Straits Times).


Cartoon from My Sketchbook.

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