The inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG) was officially opened in Singapore on Saturday night; and while the Opening Ceremony was received with much fanfare, the lead-up to the event was riddled with its fair share of controversies and complaints. No single event is going to achieve a perfect approval rate. Even though some of the criticisms levelled against the Organising Committee are valid and constructive, a plethora of commentaries online are blinded by their hate and prejudices, motivated largely by their general displeasure with the incumbent administration and its handling of various policies. Let us be more objective in our evaluations.
The Valid Displeasure
The YOG budget balloons by more than three times of the original projection. This has been the single most significant episode that has left a sour taste in the mouths of many Singaporeans, who have expressed tremendous unhappiness over the extent of the budget-disparity, and the poor timing of the announcement. The supposed justification by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) that the outcome would justify the costs blatantly overlooks the need for greater transparency, heightened accountability and better fiscal management. Unlike the traditional Olympics where billions of dollars are splashed for construction and new infrastructure, we could have kept the budget in check without compromising on the overall event quality.
Shabby meals for its volunteers. During his Opening Ceremony address, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge asserted that the volunteers were the true heroes of the YOG; because of their significant contributions to ensure that the events proceed smoothly. It seemed logical for most Singaporeans that given the increased budget, perhaps the Organising Committee could have demanded that the caterer provided much better meals for the volunteers who were contributing time and effort out of their own accord. I see nothing wrong with serving the volunteers the same food that is being prepared for the athletes; it is a basic show of respect and appreciation for all that these individuals have done.
Poor bottom-up publicity and promotion of the events, leading to poor approval rates and lacklustre ticket sales. I had contended before that not enough was being done right on the part of the administration to generate more hype and excitement for the YOG. The timing of the World Cup and other sporting events cannot be used as excuses; because we could have taken advantage of these to simultaneously reach out to the people in the heartlands during the screenings of the matches. Aside from the off-loading of tickets to the Ministry of Education (MOE), the Organising Committee seemed to have ran away with the idea that the mere splashing of expensive YOG flags, road-signs and billboards would magically do the trick. What surprised me was the lack of genuine public engagement in spite of the “extensive publicity campaign”, especially since so much more could have been done: going down to local national competitions, reaching out to schools, having more passionate events and activities et cetera.
Insufficient international outreach and attention. Enough said. As we had failed in the local context, it seems as if international response towards the YOG has been lukewarm at best. If the Organising Committee needs any proof that international stardom could have greatly boosted the event, just listen to the cheers when a collage of sporting and global superstars – including Michael Phelps and Jackie Chan – was shown during the Opening Ceremony. Why did we not attract more stars – such as the top athletes in each of the sport categories – to do short adverts in Singapore and around the world to generate more hype? Could we have used musical concerts and gatherings to lead-up to the event? It seems at the end of it all we are left with more questions than answers.
The Misguided, Exaggerated Comments
“The Opening Ceremony was a total let-down / embarrassment / complete joke (compared to … )“. The entire Opening Ceremony was not just a show of Singapore’s metropolitan development (our night skyline is simply breath-taking), but also the dedication and passion of the thousands of performers who had spent months rehearsing and preparing for their minutes of glory. Obviously, a lot of time and effort went into the conceptualisation – from the design of the water platform to the construction of the props and costumes – and it was a visual spectacle. There was a little mix-up during the flag ceremony, but the performances more than made up for it. Of course, the marvellous design of the torch (the lighthouse concept) with the little vortex in the middle was the highlight of the entire event, topped off with a wonderful display of fireworks over Marina Bay. Instead of pedantically comparing it to other events and ceremonies, let us just take the ceremony as it was.
“The money should have been spent on helping the poor / solving the flood problems / enhancing education et cetera“. It is true that we have problems of our own, but they should never stop us from breaking new boundaries; in this case, in terms of making breakthroughs in the international sporting fraternity. I do believe that the current administration is not doing enough to address many of the concerns that Singaporeans face, but what has it got to do with the YOG? If we continue to insist that we should keep our ambitions in check until we manage to make every single individual and household happy and contented, then we would soon lose our tenacity and willingness to advance and prosper. At best, we must balance our pragmatism – the need to help our people – and ambitions.
“The incumbent party and administration is doing such a terrible job in … and … So whatever the Organising Committee does we will just happily oppose or disagree“. When people fail to remain objective and willingly give way to their prejudices against the government, there is no way you can convince them otherwise. How often have you heard someone lump things such as the obscene ministers’ salaries and the inability in dealing with the floods together with the YOG? Can we not keep politics out of these discussions and be impartial in our comments and criticisms towards the event per se? These are arguments of association, and they hold little value whatsoever.
“There is simply no purpose in the YOG“. I hope that these people who think so will have the chance to meet the young athletes, volunteers and individuals who have done so much to be part of the event, and to ensure that the event runs smoothly. The experience, the friendships, and the dedication. Even if some of the individuals had been compelled to help out, they would certainly gain in one way or another. The athletes’ participation in the YOG is a stepping stone for many to carve our niche careers that were never possible previously, and convinces more young people that the do not have to staunchly stick to the traditional path of academic excellence to succeed in their lives. Furthermore, even if Singapore does not gain in immediate terms of increased tourism and economic performance, our country’s sports portfolio would be greatly enhanced, giving it more credence and experience to organise other sporting events which will prove to be positive all-round.