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What’s The $4 Billion Strategy for the Singapore Sports Hub

When the Singapore government decided to adopt a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) model for the construction and operating of the Singapore Sports Hub, expectations were high.

After all, it was reported that the winning consortium, which had outbid two other project bidders, had displayed significant strengths in programming, team culture and partnership, functionality and layout, and had offered the best value for money solution for Singapore.

But two years after opening its grand doors to the public, members of the public and many in the sports and entertainment industry have nothing but negativity about the national project.

A national embarrassment, for many who choose not to mince their words for a project which the Government pays $193.7m to the operator on an annual basis, subject to inflation. The Government made this disclosure in Parliament in February this year, in response to a parliamentary question by Workers Party MP Sylvia Lim.

So far, the project has been said to be valued at $1.33 billion. But if the Government is paying the consortium $193.7 million a year over 25 years, then the amount which taxpayers would be paying the consortium over 25 years would exceed $4 billion.

The harsh judgment on the project by the public is mainly due to the negative publicity received since opening.

A substandard pitch, a leaky roof, wanting to charge the organisers of the National Day parade an exhorbitant amount of added fees, wanting to charge the Singapore government almost a million dollars for a damaged pitch for the Opening Ceremony are just a few of the issues the public have had to stomach.

Compare the current state of affairs to what was announced in 2008. Back when the preferred bidder was announced, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, who was Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, said that that the preferred bidder had “provided a holistic strategy to promote sports participation, leisure, entertainment and lifestyle activities via a focus on community and grassroots sports.”

“Their strategy is supported by a comprehensive sporting calendar that guarantees at least 90 event days at the National Stadium and 46 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. It consist of a well-balanced mix of local, regional and international sporting events and activities targeted at various different target segments,” he said in a media release.

The media release by Sport Singapore, released on 19 January 2008, also added that examples of innovative and sustainable programmes and events included onsite media broadcasting services, organising an ASEAN clubs soccer league, a Singapore national games and international cricket matches.

However fast forward to today. The venue does not have onsite media broadcasting services and has not hosted a single international cricket match. The ASEAN clubs football league has also not seen the light and the public is rightfully, losing their patience.

Dr Balakrishnan had also suggested that “the Singapore Sports Hub can create the same buzz like other world class venues such as the Reebok stadium in Manchester, Sydney Olympic Park in Australia and Madison Square Gardens in New York.”

Despite having hosted the Southeast Asian Games, the Barclays Asia Trophy, and a Madonna concert no less, the operators of the Singapore Sports Hub – Sportshub Private Limited (SHPL) have yet to share what exactly is their strategy for the project.

Chief Executive Officer Manu Sawhney, who joined as CEO-designate in September 2015, has been painfully silent about what his strategy is for the project. In his first interview with Singapore media after joining, he said that he was hoping to bring English league side Manchester United to the Singapore Sports Hub. Coincidentally, he is a director of the Board of the English club.

But having the Red Devils play at the National Stadium is hardly a strategy. In fact, the National Stadium has already hosted the likes of Juventus, Arsenal, Everton, Stoke City, Brazil and Japan.

Is the project meant to bring Singaporeans together? What are the kind of programming which will be needed to ensure that the project brings people from all walks of life under possibly the world's largest retractable dome in the world? Or if the project is all about events and nothing else, what are the kinds of events it intends to bring to the venue so that as many segments of society benefit from the project?

The project has been passed from Dr Balakrishnan to Chan Chun Sing, Lawrence Wong and is now lying on the lap of Grace Fu.

Surely the public deserves to know what is the strategy for the project which taxpayers will be coughing out more than $4 billion to.

The project operator needs to address the concerns of the public, and quickly.