By Howard Lee
The latest response by the Singapore SEA Games Organising Committee (SINGSOC) on the jams at the SEA Games closing ceremony could hardly have appeased the crowd of thousands who were stuck outside the stadium.
After the incident went viral on social media, SINGSOC went on the SEA Games 2015 Facebook page to issue its first apology and clarification that same evening.
“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.”
SINGSOC’s explanation basically said that the seats were there, but “safety reasons” prompted some gates to be shut which slowed down entry into the stadium.
TOC’s follow up report, however, indicated that the jam was likely caused mainly by SINGSOC over-issuing tickets, as it did not want to have another incident of vacant seats, as what happened at the opening ceremony. The end result was volunteers, friends of sponsors or complimentary ticket holders ended up taking the seats of paid ticket holders. To clarify, TOC sent queries to SINGSOC, asking:
- Did SINGSOC sell more tickets, or gave out more complimentary tickets, than there were seats available?
- If yes, how many tickets were over-issued?
- If yes, was Sports Hub consulted on it?
SINGSOC did not respond directly to TOC’s query. Instead, they went for another apology and clarification on the SEA Games 2015 Facebook page.
“There have been queries on whether tickets for the evening were oversold. Based on the experience at the Opening Ceremony where about 30% of ticket holders were “no-shows”, we had invited groups from Team Nila volunteers and Voluntary Welfare Organisations to the Closing Ceremony. After accounting for these complimentary tickets, we would like to confirm that there were still sufficient seats in the stadium for all those who came for the event.
In fact, the number of people who arrived and entered the stadium could have been accommodated if we had more time to seat them at the various levels. But the crowds built up over a short period just prior to the commencement of the ceremonies. The nature of the event, which employed dimmer show lighting, also made it difficult to direct the guests past the gates and to the remaining pocket of seats around the stadium.”
So SINGSOC has now admitted that, in responding to the drop in attendance at the opening ceremony, more people – volunteers and VWOs – were asked to fill the seats. How different is this from “over-issuing” tickets compared to seats available?
Perhaps not as important a question as, how many more were in these “invited groups”? SINGSOC did not elaborate, but from the second clarification, we might believe that it could be up to 30% of total seats.
But how did SINGSOC derive that there were “still sufficient seats in the stadium for all those who came for the event”? Did it have representatives counting at the gates, or was it able to count all the empty seats in the stadium and the people waiting outside, and compare the two numbers? If they did, SINGSOC is a lot more efficient than we can possibly give them credit for, especially since, as it now claims, it would have to do this counting in “dimmer show lighting” conditions.
But if you found this second explanation only mildly plausible, you are not alone. A number of agitated ticket holders found SINGSOC’s explanation lacking, as the situation on the ground – volunteers given access despite the crowds outside; paid ticket holders asked to move from gate to gate even though they were early; people rushed to their seats only to find them already taken; sitting at non-seating areas – proved to contradict what SINGSOC is now trying to tell us.
And they were not shy in telling SINGSOC so on the SEA Games 2015 Facebook page, in response to the second clarification.
Evidently, there was something very wrong with what happened to the thousands forced out of a show they paid good money for. Tickets to the closing ceremony were already sold out before the Games started, so why did SINGSOC ever think that it had to issue extra tickets to cover for “no-shows”? Are a few blank rows that bad, compared to the safety and comfort of show-goers, including having blocked exits? Or the disappointment of those who were stuck outside, through no fault of theirs?
Even more disappointing is SINGSOC’s apparent decision to PR this away by saying the issuing of extra tickets – let’s call a spade a spade, and not an “invitation” – was for the benefit of hardworking volunteers and needy VWOs. They surely deserve to watch the show, but what gives SINGSOC the right to treat them as crowd-fillers? If SINGSOC had been genuine about letting them enjoy the show, why not purchase tickets for them, meaning they would have been part of the planned turn out?
At the end of the day, Lawrence Wong and his team now needs to come clean on why SINGSOC ever saw a need to issue extra tickets, exactly how many more were issued, and if such extra issues were in line with safety standards and done in consultation with Sports Hub.
The two explanations thus far are not only contradictory, but tells us very little that we do not already know, and tells us even less for what we need to know. The Games had been excellent, showing the best side of Singapore sports and Singaporeans. We should not let the evasiveness of SINGSOC, born of vanity in trying to make a great showing of an over-capacity crowd, mar the greatness that the nation deserves.