Man with the plan Iin a new Macau
All Manuel Silverio wanted was a sporting chance to host these regional mini-Olympics - Jeremy Walker meets the driving force whose dream comes true next month
With 30 days to go to the opening ceremony of the East Asian Games, the sportsman in the man building a new Macau shines through. 'I feel like a marathon runner,' says Manuel Silverio, chairman of the organising committee.
'We have come a long way and there is only 100 metres to go. Now we have to give our best right to the finish line.
'We have run a good race so far, but we have to beware. You can still fall down near the end.'
Silverio is speaking in his office at the headquarters of the Macau East Asian Games Organising Committee (Meagoc) in Taipa. The refurbished Macau Stadium, which will stage the opening ceremony on October 29, the Olympic Aquatic Centre and the International Hockey Centre are all part of the Macau Olympic Complex, and concrete proof of Macau's expensive and spectacular renovation.
Money talks in Macau, perhaps more than anywhere, and these impressive numbers speak for themselves:
The Macau Special Administrative Region government has invested more than US$350 million (2.8 billion patacas) on 17 building projects.
Over US$9.6 million (77 million patacas) has been spent on equipping the stadiums needed to stage the 17 sports in the games programme.
In addition, US$30 million (240 million patacas) has been spent on IT development, including e-ticketing, the timing and scoring systems, two data centres, three press centres and one international broadcasting centre. With total income expected to be about US$20 million (160 million patacas), the games themselves will run at a massive loss compared to the extravagant investment. But that's not the point, insists Silverio.
'Macau will receive the return in the future,' he says. 'In terms of international image it is so difficult to pay this bill. We are cleaning up our image to show that Macau is not only gambling and prostitution. Through this event we are making a big contribution to the development of sports and culture in Macau.
'We have an opportunity to welcome so many people from sports delegations, business and prominent guests from other entities and show them the new Macau. We are co-operating with the international community and are willing to do more and more. When this is finished we will start on the next competition. After the East Asian Games, for sure Macau cannot stop.'
Silverio likes to talk about the hardware and the software which have been produced as a result of Macau's decision to stage the fourth edition of the East Asian Games. The hardware, meaning the stadiums and other infrastructure, is there for all to see, and the software, meaning a new generation of professional staff, is being assembled to assist in Macau's transformation.
'Not only has Meagoc been constructing these things in the past four or five years, it's been serving as a training centre for many young people,' he says. 'People have been joining us not only from university in Macau but also they have been coming back from abroad, from England, the United States, China, Taiwan and Canada.
'We can say we have a group of young professionals in different fields such as engineering, IT, marketing, the legal profession, linguistics, protocol, hospitality and so on.
'So we have the hardware and software ready for the near future because Macau lacked all these things in the past. Young people would come out of university and there were no projects where they could put into action what they had learned. What we are building is for the daily needs of the Macau people, not just the East Asian Games. We are upgrading our city and making more space for education, sports development and culture.'
With the government fully behind the sports development, Silverio feels the organising committee has the backing of the people, too. Over 18,000 volunteers will be mobilised for the games, and he feels the event can spark a feel-good factor around their hometown.
'We are doing these things for the collective good of Macau, and my wish is the new generation will feel pride and ownership. I want them to feel these things are ours, and think 'I am one small part of Macau'. We have to feel we are all taking part in this project and this will give spirit to the youth and make it memorable.'
The three regions where the games will be centred are Macau Peninsula, Macau Olympic Sports Complex (Taipa) and the Cotai International Sports Complex, built on reclaimed land between Coloane and Taipa. The landmark feature of Cotai is the sparkling East Asian Games Dome, built at a cost of US$80 million (640 million patacas). It resembles a spaceship in the wasteland, and, like Macau itself, it is ready for take-off.
The Cotai project sums up the 'courage' of the government, says Silverio, and points the way for the future.
'In three to six years there will be a new city at Cotai, and some of the sports venues we are building are capable of organising congresses, exhibitions, meetings and conventions,' he says. All that's in the future, albeit not the distant future. The present is all about the East Asian Games, and the countdown clock now shows 30 days to go.
'I feel my heart beating faster, but the speed is not because I'm feeling pressure to increase the melody for the big show,' says the organising chief. 'It's more like how young people feel before they go to a party - very excited.'
'I feel my heart beating faster, but the speed is not because I'm feeling pressure to increase the melody for the big show. It's more like how young people feel before they go to a party - very excited'