Singapore bling: Golden dreams, golden touch for 28th SEA Games

By Tony Velasquez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 04 2015 11:32 PM | Updated as of Jun 05 2015 07:32 AM

Ultramarathoners kindle the 28th Southeast Asian Games flame, while SINGSOC Exco chairman Lim Teck Yin looks on. Photo courtesy of SINGSOC / Action Images via Reuters

SINGAPORE - It's by a nice numerical coincidence that the 28th Southeast Asian Games set to formally open in Singapore on June 5 falls within the year when the Lion City celebrates its golden 50th independence anniversary.

Fifty also happens to be the best gold medal tally of Singapore, achieved in the last time it hosted the SEA Games in 1993.

That's a number Singapore is aiming to exceed, both for its existence as a nation, and in its SEA Games gold medal ambitions as this year's host of the biennial sporting event.

One local Singapore publication, The New Paper, earlier predicted the "home" games will produce a bumper harvest of up to 75 gold medals for the city-state's athletes in various sports events.

ABS-CBN's Tony Velasquez with SINGSOC Exco chairman Lim Teck Yin.

The chair of the 28th SEA Games Organizing Committee, Sports SG chief executive officer Lim Teck Yin, himself a former bemedalled athlete, declined to predict a Singapore medal tally when asked by a group of visiting ASEAN journalists at the Singapore Sports Hub Complex.

Lim, however, sounded confident Singapore's gold medal aspirations will be fulfilled in its traditionally strong perforamces in aquatic sports, table tennis, and bowling.

His words rang true hours after the interview, when Singapore won its first gold of the 28th SEA Games in the women's doubles event for table tennis.

A second victory came for the host country the next day when the Singapore women's synchronized swimmers bagged the city-state's first-ever SEA Games gold medal in the sport, unseating defending champion Malaysia.

While they were focused on reaping a record gold medal harvest, this year's SEA Games organizers studiously avoided spending more gold than what was worth to successfully stage the 12-day sporting competition.

Lim said he and his team made it their mission to make the 28th SEA Games a "delightful celebration" for Singapore and its co-member states in Southeast Asia.

And while aiming to exceed the bar set by previous games, Lim said he was always mindful of the bottom line, and how to keep costs within the SG $324.5-million budget for the event.

The Sports SG chief said this public funding is augmented by SG $80-million worth of private sector sponsorship deals.

Working with these amounts, Lim said he divided his attention to sprucing up what he metaphorically refers to as the "front-of-house" and the “back-of-house”. The latter consists of behind-the-scenes logistical and administrative operations that aim to ensure the games proceed without a hitch.

It's the front-of-house that Lim preferred to enhance, explaining this had to do with the presentation of the SEA Games in the way he believes it should be packaged -- as entertainment.

Minimizing back-of-house costs meant doing away with the construction of a traditional centralized athletes village to house all the 7,000 athletes sent by 11 nations.

Lim said no new facilities were built as venues for the 402 events that make up 36 sports in this year's games.

The Sports Hub, which is among the newest and most iconic structures in Singapore, and which sets the stage for the opening and closing ceremonies of the SEA Games, was actually built over a four-year period that culminated with its inauguration in June 2014.

Lim said the Sports Hub was envisioned in 2001 as a lifestyle destination, way before it was selected to become a SEA Games facility.

But saving on the costs of constructing a new athletes village did not mean Lim and the organizing committee had little regard for the comfort and care of the visiting sports teams.

As a champion water polo player who reaped gold medals for Singapore in six SEA Games, Lim says he relied on his background to appreciate and anticipate the needs of the visiting athletes.

Tony Velasquez at the Nila Suite

The Singapore SEA Games organizing committee made up for the omission of an athletes village by creating what has been dubbed as the Nila Suite.

The 600-square-meter hospitality zone that bears the name of the 28th SEA Games lion mascot is on the ground floor of the Kallang Theater, within the vicinity of the Sports Hub.

Athletes from the participating countries can relax in the Nila Suite and interact with each other outside of their sporting arenas.

But they can still compete against one another, albeit in friendly matches of billiards, table football, video games, and indoor hoops.

SEA Games athletes can relax in the Nila Suite.

They can lounge on beanbag chairs while watching live broadcasts of the various sporting events, or soothe their tired muscles on massage chairs.

The athletes can also share meals together in the Nila Suite, which is manned by volunteers from Sports Cares, a foundation that supports children and youth from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Nila Suite also provides a thoughtful touch: a self-service laundromat equipped with 17 washing machines and clothes dryers, to ensure the athletes always have clean uniforms after each day of competition.

The Singapore SEA Games organizing chief said packaging the event as entertainment inspired his team to tap digital technology, creating a second screen app that allows mobile device users to view streaming coverage of select sports competitions, as well as a continuously updated medal tally.

Lim said the introduction of a digital platform, which likewise offers souvenir merchandising online, is strategically important to going beyond the five million eyeballs that is Singapore's population base -- to a bigger internet audience.

And as Lim also succinctly explained, going digital for the 28th SEA Games is Singapore's way of putting its own golden touch on an event where the friendship component looms large, but the business component looms even larger.