It’s easy to criticise and ask why in the first place did the government choose Public Private Partnership. But we are looking back at a decision made some 20 years ago with the capabilities and expertise that we now have today, that we did not have 20 years ago. We need to understand that the sports scene then was vastly different. Neither the government nor the local sports and lifestyle entertainment industries had the depth of experience and expertise for a project of unprecedented scale and complexity.
Let me explain.
How it all started
On 2 February 2001, The Straits Times published an article by sports correspondent Jeffery Low which called for the ageing national stadium to be replaced. This set in motion a discussion on the issue.
In July the same year, the Sporting Singapore Report recommended that the National Stadium be redeveloped into a multi-use Sports Hub with top tier infrastructural facilities for both sporting as well as lifestyle and entertainment activities.
Following the Report, the Government commissioned an in-depth feasibility study. It then announced plans in 2003 for the redevelopment of the former National Stadium into the Sports Hub that we see today, to achieve the outcomes stated in the Sporting Singapore Report which was to bring our sports, social and lifestyle offerings to the next level, help in the larger development of our sports, and to position Singapore as a leading venue for local, regional and international events.
Why the PPP approach was adopted
We have to remember that when the government started exploring this, it was in 2003, almost 20 years ago.
The scale and complexity of such a major sports infrastructural project in Singapore was unprecedented. There was insufficient depth and breadth of expertise in Singapore, including in the private sector.
Also, at that time, neither the Government nor our local sporting and lifestyle/entertainment industries had developed depth of experience, networks, contacts in bringing in marquee sports and entertainment events from all over the world.
Thus, besides needing to tap on market leading experts, with not only the right technical expertise to build the infrastructure, they also needed someone with the experience and connections with major sporting and entertainment networks.
Hence the PPP approach was chosen.
Essentially the project had two parts – (1) the design and building of a world class sporting, entertainment infrastructure, or the hardware, which took place at the outset; and (2) the subsequent running and operations of the project to meet sporting, lifestyle and community aspirations, spread out over about two decades.
The first part was achieved. The PPP has helped us achieved a world-class sporting infrastructure.
(a) However, when it came to promoting and enhancing the vibrancy of community sports and lifestyle activities at the Sports Hub, the project did not do so well.
There are programmes that have intrinsic social value, such as the National School Games or Family Day and carnivals. But such programmes do not always resonate with commercial returns, Mr Tong said.
Due to SHPL’s exclusive subcontracting arrangement with its catering subcontractor, community events organisers that wanted to cater its own food and drinks had to pay high levies to do so. These costs were then either borne by the event organisers or passed on to participants.
Compared to 20 years ago, the wider sporting and entertainment ecosystem has since matured. Singapore is now much better placed to continue making Sports Hub a premier hub for sports and entertainment.
Our own internal capabilities have grown. SportsSG had played a key role working alongside SHPL to bing in major sporting events such as the WTA finals, International Champions Cup and Rugby Sevens series. In the process, they have developeed the know-how, the links, the networks, and the experience which put them in a good position to make Sports Hub a premier hub.
“Our local and locally-based companies have also matured. Companies such as UnUsual Limited and LiveNation Singapore are now much more established and bringing in larger gigs. Group One Holdings and Ironman Asia have also continued to grow, introducing several flagship events that Singaporeans can identify closely with and actively participate in,” Mr Edwin Tong said in a ministerial statement.
“Our growing capabilities and international recognition as a premier hub for sports and entertainment can be seen in major names that have set up operations in Singapore, such as AEG and IMG, as well as NBA which has announced their set-up of a Singapore office,” he added.
For these reasons, the government decided to terminate the PPP.
Mr Tong stressed that the decision to terminate the PPP was not a decision taken lightly. Having done their due diligence, the Government felt that this was now the right time for the Government to exercise its right to step in, take over ownership, and continue the management of the Sports Hub.
This will allow them better flexibility and discretion in being able to drive their own policy outcomes.
The Sports Hub has a myriad of facilities, including an aquatic centre, water sports centre, retail mall, skate park, sports library, museum and restaurants.
Its centrepiece is the 55,000-capacity National Stadium.
Featuring a retractable dome roof measuring 312 m in diameter and 80 m in height, the National Stadium is also the largest free-standing dome structure in the world.
It won the The IOC/IAKS Award Gold in 2017
The Sports Hub was the first sport facility in Singapore that was opened up to commercial branding. On 11 November 2013, in a sponsorship deal in excess of S$50 million, local bank Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) gained 15-year naming rights to the multipurpose indoor arena, the aquatic centre, club lounges at the north and south wings of the National Stadium, and the VIP lounge in the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
The new National Stadium was excluded from the deal. The government wanted to preserve its original name because it is part of the nation’s identity, character and shared memories.