As scenes of overcrowding outside the Sports Hub yesterday evening for the closing ceremony of the SEA Games went viral, questions need to be asked on whether the Singapore SEA Games Organising Committee (SINGSOC) have done all it could to make it better, or did it instead compound the problem.
Agitated ticket holders queuing to enter the stadium to watch the closing ceremony might not have realised that the problem went beyond missing a show. The capacity crowd could have turned into a disaster if there was a fire or stampede on site.
There were reportedly thousands of such ticket holders who were sweating in the crowded confines. SINGSOC had since issued an apology and clarification, indicating that the crowd was due to an entry issue.
"As a significant proportion of the spectators were at the gates just before the start of the ceremony, there was a need to adjust entry gates and seating arrangements to enable them to be seated as quickly as possible. Consequently, some gates had to be closed for safety reasons."
However, the problem might be due to there being too many tickets issued compared to the capacity for the Sports Hub, as some disappointed ticket holders have alleged.
TOC understands that SINGSOC was unhappy with the number of no-shows at the opening ceremony, as many seats were clearly visible on national television. In order to avoid a repeat of the incident, SINGSOC supposedly decided to over-sell the tickets for the closing ceremony.
Over-selling tickets is not something alien to event companies. It is a pretty common practice to over-issue tickets by about 5% in the form of complimentary tickets, in order to pack venues.
But the question becomes one of exactly how much SINGSOC over-issued, if it did indeed do so.
From pictures and eyewitness accounts, a conservative estimate of the number of people waiting outside the stadium would hover between 10,000 and 15,000.
The Sports Hub has a maximum capacity of 55,000, and factoring in seats that need to be allocated for display and participants, it would likely be configured to hold about 40,000 seated ticket holders for the closing ceremony.
In other words, if SINGSOC did indeed over-issue tickets, they did it at 25% to 35% more seats than the stadium can hold in full capacity, a far cry from the 5% standard.
Would the Sports Hub had been able to absorb such excess capacity? As a video by Channel NewsAsia shows, there does not seem to be extra room for the thousands who were stuck outside the gate, but who would technically have an empty seat in the stadium.
Images from various online sources also indicate that there was very little spare capacity inside the stadium to match the crowds waiting outside, although there were a few empty block visible.
Who has the legit ticket?
The overissuing of tickets were mainly in two forms – complimentary tickets for Sponsors and free entry for SEA Games Volunteers. The former might include entities like GP Battery and NTUC, while that the latter could access the Sports Hub by flashing their accreditation passes (a pass given to all volunteers), TOC was told.
Paying patrons mostly bought their tickets before the start of the SEA Games itself, as the seats were sold out quickly.
The problem arising from yesterday evening also give reason the question how paying patrons are guaranteed their seats. It is understood that those who bought tickets had designated seats by blocks. However, comments online suggests that such designated seats were not reserved fro them as they rightly expected it to be.
Who were occupying the seats of paying fans? Was it complimentary ticket holders from sponsors and partners, volunteers, or was there excess capacity sold?
Disregard for safety, poor decisions on capacity
The crowd waiting outside the stadium was clearly agitated from the humidity and the crowd, from social media postings. There were also accounts of a lot of pushing and shoving going on in the crowd and many like the elderly, the disabled and the young were helplessly caught in the scrum.
It was also reported that those who managed to get in ended up sitting on the stairway to watch the show. In the event of an emergency, a stampede could have led to serious injuries and death, not only within the stadium, but among the crowds stuck outside.
Pertinent questions to ask might include whether SINGSOC has consulted Sports Hub management about the ability of the new stadium to accommodate such an expanded capacity. TOC understands that such consultations did not take place.
An expert in event management TOC spoke to shared that any decision to over-cater for event seats need to take into account the realities of the ground, and an inability to do so reflects lack of competency.
"When managing such long haul multi sports events, it is important to feel the pulse on the ground so that organisers are aware of public sentiment towards the games. This will help in understanding whether the public are interested/or will attend events. SINGSOC should have realized that public participation for the games was high, and hence the likelihood of attendance at the closing ceremony was likely to be high."
SINGSOC is the steering committee for the 28th SEA Games. It’s a team of 20 headed by Minister Lawrence Wong.
In addition to Minister Lawrence Wong, SINGSOC also features 2 other Ministers – Mr Masagos Zulfiki and Mr Teo Ser Luck and 2 Senior Ministers of State – Ms Indranee Rajah and Ms Josephine Teo.
In its post-event statement, SINGSOC offered a full refund but as evident from the comments, many are still unsatisfied. Questions also remain about how SIGSOC would be able to identify legitimate tickets in order to effect such a refund.
There was also no clarity so far about how it was possible for thousands to be stuck outside the stadium, beyond the explanation of a congestion at the gate.
TOC has sent a number of queries to SINGSOC to seek clarifications on whether tickets were over-issued and how the capacity for the closing ceremony was managed. At time of publishing, SINGSOC has not responded.