Singapore Sports Hub the Lion City's pride and joy
Singapore's state-of-the-art facilities will be completed by 2014, leaving Hongkongers to watch with envy from the sidelines
English Premiership sides, rugby's HSBC Sevens World Series and cricket's Bollywood-styled Indian Premier League will soon be strutting their stuff at the Singapore Sports Hub, a playground for the world's most famous athletes.
While Hong Kong is still undecided on how to proceed with a sports hub at Kai Tak, it's business as usual in Singapore, which is steaming ahead towards completion of its multibillion dollar project in March 2014.
"That is our scheduled date for completion of the project and we are well on the way to meeting it. We are down the final stretch now," says Mark Collins, managing director of Global Spectrum, the venue operator of the S$1.37 billion (HK$8.68 million) project.
A 35-hectare site at the edge of the Kallang Basin, next to Singapore's bustling city centre, the sports hub will offer elite and recreational sporting and entertainment facilities. World-renowned acts in sports and music are being lined up. And the sky is the limit.
"We have already signed MOU's [memorandum of understanding] with around 20 major events in the run-up to 2015 when Singapore hosts the SEA [Southeast Asia] Games. We are looking at our grand opening ceremony continuing for 15 months until the SEA Games, and we will play host to a number of events with the focus being on football, rugby and cricket," said Collins, whose company is also one of four equity partners along with the Singapore government in this ambitious undertaking.
While Hong Kong was recently caught up in an unwanted debate - prompted by certain quarters in the government - about whether Kai Tak should be used to build a sports hub or public housing, the Lion City continues to steal a march. Its hub is the largest sports infrastructure public-private partnership (PPP) project in the world. Under the PPP arrangement, the government will pay the consortium an annual fee (covering construction, operating and financing costs) over 25 years.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong continues to mull over how to best finance the Kai Tak project .
While Hong Kong is mired in uncertainty, Singapore's dream is rapidly taking shape and although Collins insists they will not be in competition with Hong Kong for sporting events, there is no doubt it will soon overshadow this city's outdated showpiece at So Kon Po, a tired old stadium badly limited in facilities.A few months ago, the International Rugby Board shunned the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's bid to host a leg of the inaugural IRB Women's Sevens World Series, instead giving it to Guangzhou. The IRB said Hong Kong lacked the capability of hosting a 12-team women's tournament (34 matches) at the same time as a 28-team men's event (the 2012 Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens) as it lacked sufficient pitches, training grounds and changing rooms.
Not only will Singapore be able to meet bigger demands, it can also cater to diverse tastes.
"While football will hold pole position among the events we will hold, rugby and cricket will follow closely. The way our 55,000-seater stadium is built, we can change the pitch configuration easily thanks to retractable seating," Collins said. "For instance, we have major plans to bring cricket and the IPL. What we will do then is just drop in wicket blocks in the centre of the pitch and turn the ground into a cricket oval by moving the seats in the centre of the stadium back. The stadium will have a running track around it, but because of the retractable seating we can move the seats closer, and over the track for football events. So this gives us scope to cater for a number of sports," said Collins, who has also met IRB officials about hosting a leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series.
The Singapore Sevens was previously a stopover but was halted after 2006, at the end of a five-year contract, to make way for the development of the national stadium. Now the Singapore Rugby Union and the government are working hand in hand trying to get the prestigious event back to the city.
"I can't see any reason why Singapore cannot host a leg of the world series after 2014," IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset said.
Apart from the state-of-the-art national stadium which comes with an innovative localised air-cooling system and a retractable domed roof, the hub will also have: an aquatic centre approved to Fina international standards and with seating for 6,000; an indoor stadium which can accommodate crowds from 4,000 to 13,000; two other sports arenas that can cater for elite athletes as well as recreational purposes with the larger hall capable of having 3,000 spectators; a water sports centre for rowing, canoeing, kayaking and dragon boat racing.
A 41,000-square-metre space will provide for retail and food outlets on the waterfront, with alfresco cafes and indoor restaurants giving scenic views of the city's skyline. A 900-metre sports promenade will circle the national stadium, while community areas offer playgrounds for children, hard courts for tennis, a skate park, rock climbing and beach volleyball.
Collins insists it will not be in direct competition with Hong Kong - when the Kai Tak hub is up and running by 2019 (or is it now 2020?).
"We are two totally different markets," says Collins. "But yes, we do have a head start on Hong Kong."
BY THE NUMBERS
35: hectare site equal to 70 football fields
43: months for construction
250,000: cubic metres of concrete
13,500: tonnes of steel structure
22-26: cranes required
90,000: tonnes of demolition waste
80: metres height of national stadium dome
312: metres diameter of national stadium dome