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As the clock starts ticking down to Saturday’s start of the inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Singapore, many of the 3,600 young athletes to compete in 26 sports will already tremble with excitement.
Many Singaporeans, however, chose to give the Olympic spirit the cold shoulder, despite the government’s tireless efforts to generate a YOG buzz.
According to an internet poll conducted by the Channel News Asia website in late July, 88 per cent of 6,430 respondents said they were “not interested at all” to watch the Olympics for athletes from the ages of 14 to 18 from 205 National Olympic Committees.
A recent street poll of 100 people by the Straits Times newspaper showed that more than half of the participants were curious about the games and planned to catch some of the action on TV, but many had very poor knowledge about the event.
Some showed no enthusiasm at all for the 13-day games for which the organizers hope to attract a crowd of 370,000 spectators paying ticket prizes up to 30 Singapore dollars (22 US dollars).
“There is no ‘wow’ factor with the YOG like (with) the World Cup (in South Africa), which just ended,” said one respondent to the newspaper poll.
Although informal, both surveys highlighted an indifferent or even negative attitude towards the YOG which many Singaporeans voice in popular internet forums.
“I do not know why Singapore wanted to host the Youth Olympics, which is obviously a second or even lower tiered international sports event,” said one comment.
“This type of thing doesn’t attract typical Singaporeans who are earning hand-to-mouth,” said another.
Most critics complained about the ballooning costs for the event.
When Singapore was elected as the first YOG host city by the International Olympic Committee in February 2008, the government estimated the budget at 104 million Singapore dollars (76 million US dollars).
But last month, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports revealed that the projected government spending was expected to reach 387 million Singapore dollars, more than three times the original prediction.
“Maybe we were a bit naïve with our initial estimates,” said the ministry’s Permanent Secretary Niam Chiang Meng, adding that “there was no precedent, no template” for hosting the new product YOG.
But the Youth Olympics were “the biggest thing that Singapore will host,” he said, as the tiny island state would never stage a World Cup or Summer Olympics, and it would leave a legacy of newly constructed or revamped sport facilities benefiting all Singaporeans.
Some citizens, however, were not convinced, calling the YOG “a massive waste of money” which could better be given to Singaporeans in need.
Other critics said the government should have spent the money “on more serious efforts” to nurture new generations of local athletes.
They complained that, in an attempt to win sports merits, the wealthy city-state spent tax-payer dollars to import foreign-born athletes, giving Singapore’s China-born paddlers who recently triumphed over China at the World Table Tennis Championships as an example.
“Attend the Games, enjoy the sporting action, cheer on the Singapore team,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged his fellow citizens when the Youth Olympic flame reached Singapore after a journey through all continents.
Aware of some possible sports fatigue after the World Cup in South Africa, a comment in the Straits Times newspaper called on Singaporeans to “rally behind the YOG” if they were one people and proud of what Singapore had achieved.
“We should feel in our hearts a sense of awe that our country has been chosen to initiate this new series of games,” it added.
“We need organic buzz,” the paper said.