Singapore aims for Rugby Sevens sports hosting comeback

South African players celebrate on day two of the HSBC Rugby Sevens Singapore at the National Stadium on April 14, 2019 in Singapore. (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images for Singapore Sports Hub)

Singapore is targeting the World Rugby Sevens Series scheduled in the city next April as its return to hosting major sports events after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lim Teck Yin, chief executive of government authority Sport Singapore, told the All That Matters Online 2020 sports and entertainment industry conference: “The strategic question that we have to answer is, why does it make sense for us to open up to athletes and teams, for us to be able to stage events, and the one that’s really on the top of our minds at the moment is the Rugby Sevens next year.”

Singapore, a regional hub for the hosting of major sports events, including its flagship Formula 1 Grand Prix, has largely shut down as a sports host since the pandemic began. When the pandemic wave hit Singapore earlier this year, the country’s cutting-edge sports facilities were shuttered. Sport SG turned over some facilities for use as dormitories for the country’s foreign worker population, which was hit hard by the virus.

Strict virus control measures remain in place in the city state, including a five-person limit on social gatherings, including sports activities. Authorities recently announced that business conferences of up to 250 people would be permitted from October 1.

Singapore is set to be the second stop on the 2021 World Rugby Sevens Series, on April 10 and 11. Hong Kong is scheduled to be the first stop, on April 2-4. The series recently cancelled events scheduled for Australia and New Zealand in January.

Lim said of Singapore’s hopes to host the April event: “We have to ask ourselves if it makes sense, not just commercial sense but strategic sense for us to make that event happen…And we’re working very hard on the assumption that it will happen and we will be able to create an engagement proposition with fans around the world that allows us to showcase that Singapore is open for business.”

The high-profile, globally-broadcast event could provide impetus for the Southeast Asian region to ramp up sports event hosting next year. In 2021, Singapore is the chair of the Asean sports ministers, and Lim hopes the multinational group can bring sports events back to the region, with a particular focus on the Southeast Asia games set to be staged in Vietnam next November and December.

Lim said Sport SG had been working with Singapore’s government during the pandemic to keep the country’s battered sports industry alive.

“We’ve been very clear that we want to be able to sustain jobs, sustain capabilities that have been built up over years and we’ve been working hand in glove with the other government agencies, not least the Ministry of Finance,” he said.

“Most critically, jobs and capabilities cannot be allowed to fall away, particularly critical capabilities such as event running capabilities that have been fuelling our high performance sports system in Singapore and competences that have enabled community participation.”

A government statutory board, Sport SG’s purpose is to develop sport and the sports industry within Singapore. It is also responsible for the nation’s elite athletes and organising sporting events.

During the pandemic, Lim said the organisation had sought to introduce new initiatives, including some aimed at moving the personal fitness industry online.

“The spread of the virus in Singapore drove a lot of sport activities online and Sport SG worked quickly to provide opportunities for the people who work in the fitness industry,” he said.

An initiative called ActiveSG Circle, created a ‘virtual sports centre’, where citizens and coaches could take part in fitness and health promotion classes.

Lim said he is seeing the wider sports industry being transformed by technology, and believes sports activities in the future will increasingly blend real-life and virtual experiences, enabling them to reach a wider audience.