Slightly over a week ago, a senior member of the diplomatic corps asked me, “Do Singaporeans care a hoot about the Youth Olympic Games?”
“To be very honest,” I replied, “No.”
I then put it out of my mind, my own interest level running on empty — like most of my fellow Singaporeans.
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It’s the affective divide again, in the famous words of writer Catherine Lim, who in the 1990s was rapped by the prime minister for undermining public confidence in the government through her plain speaking. But it’s true: There’s a gulf between citizens and the government. As soon as something is seen as being important to the government, especially if it is seen as important to the ego of the government, the average Singaporean keeps his distance. There’s that sense of alienation all over again.
Lately, the government has been trying to use sports as a platform for cranking up nationalism, but the more ministers get involved, the more Singaporeans stay away from the projects they sponsor.
It’s like how very few Singaporeans fly the flag for National Day. What flags you see are not put out by individuals, they are organised by neighbourhood committees, communist party-style. That accounts for the orderly way they have been put up.
The Youth Olympic Games project suffers the same fate. The fact that huge billboards have to be put up to feign popular enthusiasm says it all. Here’s a billboard that proclaims “Residents of Holland-Bukit Timah town celebrate” the games, put up by the government:
Not more than 50 metres away is another billboard, this time for National Day, complete with likenesses of members of parliament lording it over citizens:
Same same. They’re both government projects. Same same, both aver “enthusiasm” from top down. From bottom up, it’s indifference and ennui.
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A few days ago, I bumped into a friend who was a school teacher. “You look rather stressed out today,” I said. She always looks stressed out, and that seems to be my opening line each time I see her.
“I have to reschedule so many classes for next month,” she explained.
Naturally I asked “Why?” but before she had a chance to reply, a thought hit me out of the blue. “By any chance has it got to do with marching orders for all students to attend the Youth Olympic Games?”
“Aargh,” she went, flinging her arms up in despair. “I’ve said enough, I’ve said enough. I’ll say no more.”
“Am I right or not?” I persisted.
“I’ll say no more. I don’t want to lose my job.”
Attempting a more indirect tack, “How are students going to pay the ticket prices? How can parents be expected to pay? Not all parents have money to throw about. . . ” My voice trailed off as I thought about the the budget for the Youth Olympic Games ballooning from the initial estimate of S$122 million to S$387 million.
7 July 2010
Cost of Youth Games goes up three-fold
An extra $265 million needed to meet the cost will be borne by MCYS and Ministry of Finance
SINGAPORE – The cost of organising the inaugural 2010 Youth Olympic Games has risen three-fold.
With 38 days left to the opening ceremony at The Float@Marina Bay on Aug 14, it will now cost $387 million to stage the Games, up from its original estimate of $122 million during the Games’ bid phase, before Singapore was named host by the International Olympic Committee in February 2008 after a keen tussle with Moscow.
Speaking at a news conference yesterday, MCYS Permanent Secretary Niam Chiang Meng said: “The original bid was an estimate. There was no precedent or template … When we made the bid, the figures were based on specifications not fully spelt out by the International Olympic Committee or by the international federations.
“It was only very recently that the sporting events had their formats spelt out … which is why many of these things can only be finalised so late.”
Technology accounted for the biggest spike – $97 million (see box).
Added Mr Niam: “The estimate is not fixed, although it is likely to be lower than higher.”
The Youth Olympic Games, which run from Aug 14 to 26, will feature 201 events across 26 sports, with some 3,600 athletes from 205 National Olympic Committees (NOCs) competing.
About 20,000 volunteers will help run the Games, and about 370,000 spectators are expected to watch the two-week event.
A side bar to this news story gave a Budget breakdown for “key selected areas”.
- $97 million: Technology, including $16 million for providing “live” broadcasts in 18 of the 26 sports.
- $76 million: Sports and venues, mainly for upgrading works like floodlights and warm-up halls.
- $44 million: Logistics and transport, such as warehousing, supply chain, catering and cleaning costs which increased after organisers upped the volunteers from 7,000 to 20,000.
- $18 million: Security, including for screening equipment.
- $12 million: To engage Singaporeans.
- $7 million: Cost to organise the Journey of the Youth Olympic Flame.
A quick punch on a calculator will reveal that together, these items add up to only S$254 million.
I still don’t know what the real story is, or whether my guess is anywhere near the truth — my over-dramatic friend having disintegrated, like she often does, into mock hysteria and never answered my questions.
However, The Online Citizen reported that of 100,000 tickets sold so far, “80,000 of those 100,000 tickets sold were bought by the Ministry of Education.” It did not refer to a source for the figures.
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Meanwhile a poll is now making the rounds of Laugh Out Loud Singapore. As at 8 p.m. on Friday, 30 July 2010, the online poll on the Channel NewsAsia website showed nearly 90 percent of 4,220 respondents saying “I’m not interested at all” to the survey question “Will you be watching any Youth Olympic Games competition?”
I think the 90-percent figure is an under-estimate. If you’re indifferent to the Youth Olympic Games, the chance of you even bothering to participate in the poll is going to be lower than someone who is interested.