Sports Hub has fallen short of its promises
SHPL must stage events that excite and draw out Singaporeans
Already, three chief executives - Philippe Collin-Delavaud, Manu Sawhney and Oon Jin Teik - have helmed the $1.33 billion Sports Hub since 2010, and the 35-hectare facility continues to struggle to become the beating heart of sports and entertainment in the country.
As Singaporeans were promised it would be.
Oon's announcement last month that he was quitting as CEO after only a year was a shock, and once again raised questions of the public-private partnership (PPP) inked between the SportsHub Pte Ltd (SHPL) consortium and the Government.
The Sports Hub story has to be about a regular slate of exciting events drawing Singaporeans out in their thousands to Kallang regularly, but five years after it opened its doors, that has yet to come to pass.
The SHPL needs to provide answers over why there has only been a sprinkling of events that excite and unite multitudes of Singaporeans, and reveal the plan to improve the calendar.
Sport Singapore, which works with the consortium on behalf of the Government, needs to tell us how it can help SHPL affect the calendar.
I know the SHPL will tout that it hosted over 3 million visitors last year.
You will see joggers use the stadium's promenade, and basketball games and zumba sessions going on regularly.
Rowers and canoeists pepper the Kallang waterway from time to time and beach volleyball matches go on at the venue on weekends.
But the Sports Hub must also be about a mass of people regularly coming together to watch events at the National Stadium, the OCBC Aquatic Centre, the OCBC Arena and the Singapore Indoor Stadium (SIS).
The consortium may want to boast that it hosted more than 210 events last year, but this must be about strangers forming friendly links with each other at the stadium over a 15s rugby Test between the All Blacks and the Wallabies, family members strengthening relationships with each other over a one-day international between cricket-crazy India and Sri Lanka and Singaporeans of every hue roaring on Joseph Schooling as one at the pool in the Fina World Championships.
It has not happened.
I have been told that the Sports Hub is profitable, but surely the gauge of its success is also whether Singaporeans have formed a bond with the facility.
When then-Minister for the now superseded Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports Vivian Balakrishnan made the announcement of the tender award in 2008, he said that the SHPL got the nod "primarily because... they were strongest in offering a comprehensive sporting calendar... guaranteeing 90 event days in the National Stadium and at least 46 at the SIS".
And that calendar would feature a wide spectrum and well balanced mix of local, regional and international sporting events that "would resonate with our people".
What has happened to these targets?
I have also not heard any news of the Premier Park Foundation, a funding project the Sports Hub proposed which would see it reinvest a significant portion of its commercial revenues for future activities, events and facilities.
I acknowledge that the abysmal state of local football has led to a loss of faith in the national side and, as a result, too few appearances by the Lions at the National Stadium.
I appreciate that construction of the project was delayed and that the landscape may have altered, but that cannot change what the Sports Hub should be at its core - staging exciting events for Singaporeans.
By that measure, it is well off the mark and the new CEO, working with chairman Bryn Jones and the board, has to address this.
While a young Paul Pogba showed glimpses of his midfield elan when Juventus swamped a Singapore Selection side 5-0 in the first football match at the National Stadium in August 2014, Neymar's performance remains the greatest individual sports feat at the arena after his samba left the Samurai Blue dizzy, scoring all four goals when Brazil took Japan to school two months later.
Football has been the most regular feature at the 55,000-capacity stadium at the Sports Hub, as it should be, because it is the No.1 sport in the country.
But the stadium also boasts the engineering capability to configure itself to host cricket, rugby and athletics, and yet, a world-class cricket clash and a leading athletics event have been missing from its calendar since the Kallang venue opened its doors in 2014.
Impressive as they are, the 62 corporate suites that ring the mid-level of the stadium have not been a hit, with a number of corporates unwilling to bite due to the paucity of worthy events at the arena.
Surely, this was not the plan.
The Straits Times has reported that Oon's resignation came after he disagreed with the SHPL board over the commercial and social position of the Sports Hub.
If it is indeed the case, then surely there has to first be a recognition of the problem, and then the will by both SHPL and the Government to come together and fix this.
In the PPP deal, the Government pays the consortium $193.7 million over 25 years starting from 2010, while SHPL took on the costs of constructing the Sports Hub.
When announcing the deal in 2008, Dr Balakrishnan said the strengths of the two parties and what they bring to the table "can create the same buzz... as the... Sydney Olympic Park in Australia" and even "Madison Square Garden in New York".
It will help if the Football Association of Singapore eventually gets it right to create such a ruckus.
But, while we all cross our fingers and hope desperately for a football renaissance in Singapore, there is so much else to be done, because right now, the goal for the Sports Hub to hum like the Garden in New York rings hollow.