Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong

SEA Games plagued by shortcomings, says letter writer

Lawrence Wong, chairman, Steering Committee
Lawrence Wong, chairman, Steering Committee

While the recent SEA Games was hailed as a success by the Government, things might not be as rosy as they are portrayed to be.

While there is no doubt that our athletes have done a tremendous job of hauling in the medals and setting records in the process, and bringing pride to an entire nation, and the thousands of volunteers gave of their all, it has emerged that there are more shortcomings which may not have been highlighted earlier.

Dr Robin Chee Ming Feng, writing to the Straits Times forum page on Friday, 19 June, listed a litany of “many preventable mistakes made” which had marred the enjoyment of the Games. These included lighting which were blinding and a laptop which caught fire during the silat finals.

Dr Chee noted that only 19 out of 36 sports were featured on virtual platforms such as Toggle and YouTube.

“This means that fans of the remaining 17 sports had to rely on brief highlights aired on television,” he said.

He added that “there were numerous technical problems.”

“For instance, during the opening ceremony, some spectators had to shield their eyes throughout, due to strong lighting coming from the stage. During the silat finals, technical errors resulted in a long delay between matches, and one of the laptops on the judges’ table even caught fire.”

Dr Chee said volunteers were not briefed adequately enough to render meaningful assistance to spectators, that the official websites of the Games provided misleading or inaccurate information, the “viewing experiences for spectators were poor for certain events”, and that there were also problems with the ticketing process.

“Swimming and diving fans, for instance, were told that tickets for these events were sold out. However, a few days later, the organisers decided to offer more seats for swimming and diving,” Dr Chee said.

“At the football final, it was announced that all the tickets for the 55,000-capacity stadium were sold. However, it was later announced that there were only around 30,000 spectators present.”

The Closing Ceremony was not spared from faults either.

Dr Chee said: “The closing ceremony was disappointing as well, as it was shorter than expected, the names of the most valuable athletes were not announced, and there was no finale performance by the host nation’s musicians. Worst of all, the parade of giant stamps made it seem like a rehash of the National Day Parade.”

The last day’s events also saw chaos when scores of ticket-holders were kept out of the gates because of the organisers’ supposed misreading of the grounds by issuing extra tickets to cater to what the organisers thought would be no-shows from the spectators.

As it turned out, however, it was a miscalculation by the organisers, who are scrambling to right the wrong done to ticket-holders. The organisers are reported to have personally delivered SEA Games closing-ceremony fun packs and ticket refunds to the affected ticket holders.

Dr Chee ended his letter with the hope that the organisers of such large-scale sporting events will learn from these mistakes.

But the list of failings runs longer than what Dr Chee has described, as The Online Citizen (TOC) reported earlier here: “Kudos to athletes & volunteers, but management can do better”.

These included power outages, the national anthem failing mid-way through a prize-giving ceremony, bad signage which led to marathon runners taking the wrong turn, cyclists coming down food poisoning, and the exhibition of an artist’s ping-pong table without permission.

Couple this with the uncertainty for months of whether the pitch at the National Stadium would be ready for the Games, and how millions of extra dollars had to be spent on getting the grass ready.

While the organising committee, SINGSOC, has apologised for the fiasco at the closing ceremony, it has not said much about these other failings.

The Minister of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), Lawrence Wong, who heads the Steering Committee for the Games, has also remained silent on these.

Mr Wong, however, has said the Games was “very much a hit” with the public, according to a Channel Newsasia report.