Just when you think things can’t get any worse

Singapore Democrats

You couldn’t make this up. With all the mishaps and foul-ups thus far, you’d think that things can’t get any worse for the Youth Olympic Games. It did. We now have complaints that YOG officials turned away spectators when the sports arenas were full – of empty seats.

People who had gone to watch the games, some even relatives of the athletes, have been told that tickets were sold out only to find out later that the stands were near empty. Frustrated spectators have demanded answers from the organisers. 

What caused the problem? When sales of the tickets remained sluggish in the lead-up to the Games, the organisers pressed the panic button and decided to offload the unsold tickets to whoever would buy them in bulk.


Up stepped the Education Minister to rescue his brethren Sports Minister. The Ministry of Education “bought” 80,000 tickets for its students. (Here’s one for the economic supplysiders to mull over.)

But someone forgot to tell the students that they were supposed to actually attend the games. But with most of them having to prepare for their term exams, many students, probably at the behest of their parents, decided to give the Games a miss.

(Reports are beginning to surface, however, that schools have been coercing their students into attending the YOG. Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Primary School even collected $5 from each student to be refunded only if the student showed up at the event. The Olympic Spirit remains hale and hearty!)

But YOG minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan didn’t get the memo. The tickets were sold and that was that, he must have thought. If Singaporeans weren’t interested in watching the competitions, we’ll just get students to fill up the seats.

But the minister didn’t figure that there would be some people who might still be interested enough to turn up on matchday to catch a game. The gatekeepers simply followed instructions – those without pre-purchased tickets couldn’t enter, empty seats or no.

And so the situation was set-up for an(other) epic embarrassment: An international sports event with no one to cheer on the sportspeople.

Which leads one to wonder: How does the good doctor do it? How does he preside over such a monumental screw-up like this and then tell the people – apparently with a straight face – that the empty seats are due to people coming late and leaving early?

The YOG has been a sorry story of stumble after fumble so much so that it borders on the comedic. The bloated budget, the food poisoning of volunteers, empty concerts, the lack of public enthusiasm, the indifferent treatment of our volunteers, etc have not endeared Singaporeans to the Games.

The lack of interest in the event by the rest of the world is turning out to be a blessing in disguise.

One cannot but feel sorry for the young athletes who must have worked their hearts out for this week. They should know that Singaporeans are proud of each and everyone of them. The organisers did not do them justice.

When this is all over – when the tents are taken down, when the YOG flame is extinguished, when all the hardworking volunteers have returned to their normal lives – one question will ring out very loud and very clear: How will Minister Vivian Balakrishnan explain how he managed to take $400 million and turn the YOG into such a spectacle?

Before he comes up with more answers designed to showcase his arrogant defiance, he should draw a deep breath and note the anger and disappointment of Singaporeans over his infamous handling of the Youth Olympic Games 2010.

“Sorry” is the word that Singaporeans are waiting to hear from him.

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