IOC's Ng says Singapore YOG was 'worth every cent'

Somewhere in Ng Ser Miang’s wardrobe sits a polo tee with his name stitched on it, a purple reminder of a historic event a decade ago, when Singapore hosted the inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG).

Like many among the purple army of volunteers who helped make the Games a success, Ng’s memories of the event are vivid and unblemished, just like the polo tee he wears initially for this interview.

The idea for a youth-centric Games that required host cities to use existing sports infrastructure was first mooted by then-International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge, and one that Ng said was “made in heaven for Singapore”.

For the 71-year-old, who spearheaded Singapore’s bid and organisation of the YOG, the journey had just begun.

But first the team had to convince the Republic’s leaders that Singapore was ready to host it.

Months before the bid for the IOC, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had told The Sunday Times that he felt Singapore might not be ready to host the Games in 2010.

But a day trip to Lausanne for a meeting with Rogge, and two questions to Ng – who explained the concept of the YOG to him – convinced the PM.

“After the visit, PM was convinced, so he asked me, ‘If we bid, will we win, and if we win, can we do it?’ My reply was yes, and yes,” said the IOC vice-president.

In February 2008, Singapore pipped Moscow to the rights to host the Games.

For Ng, his reward for the next 30 months of hard work came days before the opening ceremony, when he handed the Youth Olympic torch to the late Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew at a Marina Bay event. Mr Lee had smiled at him and said: “Well done.”

While the Aug 14-26 Games was hailed as a success, it was not without controversy as the total bill of $387 million – over three times the initial estimate of $104 million – came under fire from critics.

But Ng, who was chairman of the organising committee, believes that the YOG was “worth every cent”, noting that the bulk of the costs was spent here on a “really iconic” event for Singapore.

The initial estimate was “very low” and the numbers changed as the concept was developed, he said, with the opening ceremony and “live” Games results system also adding to the costs.

He told ST: “We know that this final budget number would draw some flak from people, but if you take it in the right perspective, what it has done for Singapore, what is the worth of this event in terms of Singapore’s image, attracting different things after the Games, whether it’s investment, tourism, subsequent major events.

“This is something that was really iconic for Singapore. The numbers were there, totally justified and totally scrutinised… it was worth every cent.”

Since 2010, the YOG has travelled to Nanjing (2014), Buenos Aires (2018) and the next edition will be hosted in Dakar, Senegal. It was initially slated for 2022 but was postponed to 2026 owing to Covid-19.

And in the turbulent, digitally-obsessed world that youths are now growing up in, Ng believes that there is still a place for the YOG to inspire and engage them through sport.

He added: “It will continue to be relevant because it will continue to engage the youth… YOG is always exciting because there will always be change.”

Low Lin Fhoong

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