June 25, 2017

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YOU may be up to date with the latest famiLEE news, but are you up to speed on what else is happening in Singapore? The past few days also had news on the arrest of two Singaporean auxiliary police officers under the ISA, a report that long-term unemployment rates have increased, a Singaporean teenager setting a world powerlifting record, report that obesity rates have increased and the G said that new laws to battle fake news will be out next year.

We’ve summarised these developments in bite-sized form:

1. Terrorism: Two more Singaporeans arrested under ISA; radical publications banned

Two Aetos auxiliary police officers were arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in May, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) revealed yesterday (Jun 20). Muhammad Khairul Mohamed, 24, has been detained for planning to fight against Shi’ites alongside the Free Syrian Army (FSA) militia in Syria. His colleague Mohamad Rizal Wahid, 36, has been issued a Restriction Order (RO) for failing to report Khairul and suggesting ways to get to Syria.

Separately, the G has banned nine publications by extremist Singaporean preacher Rasul Dahri under the Undesirable Publishing Act, the Ministry for Communications and Information announced yesterday. In some of his works, the preacher called for Muslims to reject secularism and establish an Islamic state. The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) called Rasul Dahri “exclusivist” and “hardline”, advising Muslims to “avoid such teachings”.

2. Economy: 2017 growth forecast raised, exports shrunk, no improvement in long-term unemployment

There’s mixed news in the economic sphere. The job market remains tough as long-term unemployment is at an eight-year high of 0.8 per cent in March, up by 0.1 percentage point from a year ago. The majority of those retrenched are professionals, managers, executives and technicians, who are also finding it difficult to re-enter the workforce.

There are some silver linings though. Unemployment in the first quarter was lower than projected by the Ministry of Manpower. Some 4,000 workers were laid off between January and March, down by nearly 1,500 from a year ago. And projections for economic growth are up, with private sector economists predicting 2.5 per cent growth, up from their forecast of 2.3 per cent in March.

3. Sports: Singapore Athletics feud; SG teen sets powerlifting record

Disputes between Singapore Athletics (SA) and track and field coach Ms Margaret Oh over the schedule for Ms Shanti Pereira’s training sessions and participation in events have been resolved. Ms Margaret Oh is the coach of 200m champion Ms Pereira, who won gold at the 2015 SEA games. Ms Pereira told The Straits Times on Monday (Jun 19) that “they had a good, positive discussion.” Both Ms Oh and Ms Pereira have agreed to join the pre-SEA Games centralised training camp next month. Ms Pereira will be competing in the Women’s 100m and 200m at this year’s SEA Games.

On a happier note, 17-year-old Mr Matthew Yap set a new world squat record at the World Classic Powerlifting Championships in Minsek, Belarus on Sunday. He lifted 208kg in his third attempt, overtaking Kazakhstan’s Mr Dmitriy Chebanov on the leaderboard to win a Gold medal. In addition to the win, Mr Yap has also won a bronze medal in the bench press and a silver medal for the overall standing in the competition.

4. Health: Obesity and STIs

Singapore is a makan paradise for the foodies. But overeating can take a toll on the health of the average Singaporean. Findings from the Health Promotion Board (HPB) showed that while Singaporeans are exercising more, they are also eating more. Six in 10 are exceeding the recommended food intake.

What’s worrying is that obesity rates could reach 15 per cent in seven years. ST reported that on average, the median body mass index (BMI) score for adults last year was 23.15 – outside of the healthy range.

In other health news, the Department of Sexually Transmitted Infections Control (DSC) Clinic recently released figures that showed an increase in adolescents getting diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections (STI). In 2015, 421 boys and girls aged 10 to 19 contracted STIs. The year before there were 391 cases. This is an increase of 8 per cent from the year before, reported The Straits Times. The highest number of cases occurred in 2007 with 820 adolescents contracting STIs. Since then, the figure had been on a steady decline. Experts suggest that while adolescents here are generally aware that condoms are used as protection against STI, many simply choose to forgo using condoms.

5. Law: Fake news laws likely out next year

The G has decided to come up with new laws to battle fake news, Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam said on Monday at the opening of a two-day conference on fake news. Mr Shanmugam cited a poll by the G which showed the need for such laws. He said:“Around two-thirds [of Singaporeans] could not recognise fake news when they first saw it. And only around half are confident of their own ability to recognise fake news.”
In an ideal case, “most misinformation will be dealt with through a resilient society, responsible and effective media, and the innovation of Internet companies”. But in reality, the Minister said: “We cannot always rely on the content standards of the Internet giants… The Government will also need to update our toolbox.”

To achieve this, Minister Shanmugam said the G had surveyed the positions of three other jurisdictions: the European Union, Germany, and Israel. These jurisdictions are considering laws to compel social networks to take down illicit content.

 

Text by Sharanya Pillai, Danielle Goh, and Johannes Tjendro.

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Suhaile Md 

SO WHAT if she was axed from the national team training programme six months back? Feng Tianwei’s still got it. Singapore’s top table tennis star won the 2017 International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) title on Sunday (Apr 23).

It’s her first major title since she was booted out of the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) last October. Apparently, the 30-year-old didn’t fit into its rejuvenation plans, so STTA would not support her training. It would however support her participation in the ITTF world circuit. Though it’s not clear what exactly this support entails. As for major meets like the Olympics and the Asian Games, she will face the same qualifying criteria as any other STTA athlete. The three-time Olympic medallist had failed to make it past the Olympic quarter-finals in Rio 2016.

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There was much drama surrounding Feng’s ouster (links below). But she was quick to pick herself up and form a team to support her training. She has been busy competing since.

Barely over a month after the split, Feng faced world No. 1 and reigning Olympic champion, Ding Ning in a China Table Tennis Super League match on Dec 6. The bout was a nail-biter, but Feng prevailed, beating the world champion by just one set. The score: 3:2.

While the win gave her a much needed confidence boost, constant travel across China for league matches took a toll. A few days later at the ITTF Doha Open, Feng lost 3:4 to Miu Hirano of Japan in the round of 16. That’s one step short of the quarter finals. It was the last event of the year.

The loss of STTA’s resources clearly had an impact. “This is the first competition I’m going to where I’m handling every aspect of competing by myself,” said Feng after her loss to Japan, reported The Straits Times (Dec 10).

Lucky for her, she still qualified for the Sports Excellence Scholarship which provides her with a monthly stipend of up to $8,000 amongst other benefits like medical support. The scholarship is awarded by the High Performance Sports (HPS) Steering Committee, not STTA. HPS is chaired by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Grace Fu. Feng successfully renewed the scholarship in March this year.

Feng’s 2017 season started on a sour note. She was absent from the STTA awards ceremony in mid-February although she was the top table tennis performer in Singapore last year. She had come in third for both the World Cup and Asian Cup in 2016. The best player award was not given out that night.

According to ST, when asked about Feng’s absence, STTA president Ellen Lee said: “She is no longer at the STTA… all this while, we have been recognising Feng Tianwei for what she has done and we are grateful… I think it’s about time that we also let the recognition be given and spread on to other players as well.”

February was a dismal month for her. For the ITTF Qatar Open, she was defeated by German Solja Petrissa, who ranked 13th in the world, by two sets. Feng was ranked sixth at that time.

There was one bright spot. On Feb 23, Feng met the qualifying criteria for the Asian Table Tennis Championship in April, so STTA took her in as part of its Singapore contingent. It was the first time she played with the STTA since their October split. On April 14 though, she lost to China’s Chen Meng at the quarter-final stage in three straight sets.

Despite the loss, Feng was ranked third in the world by ITTF in March and April, up from sixth when she parted ways with STTA. The next best Singaporean, ranked 25th in the world, is Zeng Jian. Since Feng is no longer in the STTA, this makes 20-year-old Zeng STTA’s best player.

Feng solidified her hold on the global rankings with her ITTF Korea Open win on Sunday (Apr 23). After her win, she said: “At the moment I don’t practise with the national team in Singapore although I live there. I am practising in different clubs and with different private sparring partners. Sometimes I even go to China for training.”

The three highest ITTF ranked players will represent Singapore in the SEA games team events this August, said STTA technical director Loy Soo Han in response to queries from The New Paper in January.

So it really doesn’t matter whether Feng is part of STTA or not as far as the glory of Singapore is concerned. Feng could still play for the national team if she maintains her ranking. If she wins medals, Singapore’s best paddler would have done so with little to no resources spent on her by STTA. Very much like Joseph Schooling.
.

Read more on last October’s controversy here:

  1. Feng breaks silence on STTA controversy. Here’s her letter – in English

  2. What STTA’s Deputy President said about Feng Tianwei’s sacking

  3. Feng was a “bad egg”, a “disgrace to nation”, says STTA Deputy President

  4. Feng Tianwei’s shock exit and the economy

 

Featured image by cm yong. (CC BY 2.0)

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skillsfuture_300x250

by Vir Chiniwala

THE annual English football season starts this weekend, and before you worry about where to take in a game, we’ve made a list of Singapore’s top football-watching spots, for every type of fan.

1. Molly Roffey’s – for the fan who wants an “authentic” experience

Screenshot from Molly Roffey's Facebook Page
Screenshot from Molly Roffey’s Facebook Page

With jerseys framed on the wall and football plaques all over the establishment, this Irish pub located in the heart of Bras Basah is as authentic as they come. Even if you aren’t a fan of the English club, the atmosphere in the bar on match days wouldn’t be out of place inside of any football stadium. Just don’t badmouth the bar’s favourite team – or at least, not openly. The place is well-known among Arsenal fans, who have dubbed the pub “The Arsenal Bar of Singapore”.

Location: 51 Bras Basah Road, #01-02A Manulife Centre, Manulife, Singapore 189554

 

2. The Penny Black – for the fan who wants a good English meal 

Screenshot from The Penny Black's Facebook page
Screenshot from The Penny Black’s Facebook page

While you may be watching the game in Singapore, The Penny Black does its best to convince you otherwise. Modelled after a Victorian London house, the quaint little bar provides an unmatched British culinary experience. It has the bar regulars like fish and chips, but what sets it apart is the authenticity of its food – take bacon butty basically, a bacon sandwich and bangers and mash for instance. The place screams England, and its British-inspired grub will transport your tastebuds to the birthplace of football. Both football and foodie fanatics will have something to cheer about.

Location: 26-27 Boat Quay, Singapore 049817

 

3. IndoChine: Cafe Siem Reap – for the fan who’s on a budget

Image a screenshot from IndoChine website
Image a screenshot from IndoChine website

Located in the bustling Holland Village area, IndoChine’s Cafe Siem Reap is becoming a popular haunt for sports fanatics, especially those on a budget. At most football bars, a drink would set you back approximately $15-$20 dollars. At IndoChine, there’s an all-day “one-for-one” policy; a pint of beer costs about $20. Also, because the cafe shares an outdoor area with the other bistros in the area, exuberant fans don’t have to worry about toning their volume down – especially when Wayne Rooney misses an open goal.

Location: 44 Lorong Mambong, Holland Village, Singapore 277697

 

4. Muddy Murphy’s – for the “diehard” fan

Screenshot from Muddy Murphy's Facebook Page
Screenshot from Muddy Murphy’s Facebook Page

Those who yearn for the company of likeminded sports fanatics –  Muddy Murphy’s is the place to be. The Irish bar’s occupants are filled with people who live for sports, and are more than up for an endless debate on all topics football. It might sound intimidating, but the people are generally friendly, especially to a newcomer who knows the intrinsics in football.

It shows a variety of other sports, such as Formula One (F1), Golf, and Tennis among others on its several screens, making it a great spot for diehard fans of not just football, to keep up with events around the globe.

Location: 442 Orchard Road Claymore Connect, #01-02 to 05, Singapore 238879

 

5. Beer Market – for the fan who can take it or leave it

Image a screenshot form Beer Market website
Image a screenshot form Beer Market website

Those who don’t know too much about football, but are eager to take in the atmosphere of watching a match should look at Beer Market – the official bar of English football club, Liverpool.

Beer market is a one of its kind place in Singapore, where prices of drinks fluctuate based on demand – mirroring the stock exchange market. For casual fans who may not be too interested in the entire game, one can spend their time playing a part in the various football chants with friendly Liverpool fans, or even challenging a friend to a game of electronic darts – all while taking in the novelty of the “market”. Hence, making this place a great spot for both casual and new sports fans looking for a change in scenery.

Location: 3B River Valley Road, #01-17/02-02 Clarke Quay, Singapore 179021

 

Featured image taken from Molley Roffey’s Facebook page.

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by Vir Chiniwala

WITH this year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro beginning next week, there are massive expectations for every nation. People all over the world are hoping to see their country shine on the international stage and bag a few gold medals.

With Olympic fever heating up, we take a look back at the top moments from the 2012 games in London – and what to expect in the prestigious tournament.

 

1. The Queen and James Bond

 

The opening ceremony of the London Olympics had several thrilling moments from the iconic lighting of the torch to the performances of several “dancing independent athletes”. However, no one would have expected Queen Elizabeth to have a role in the opening ceremony, with Britain’s own James Bond no less.

Stunt doubles of the duo parachuted into the stadium from a helicopter, and while they may have only appeared on the Olympic showreel, the audience were nevertheless enthralled with the entrance. The entire concept and its execution worked extremely well and one of the tournament’s first moments became one of the defining aspects of a memorable competition.

What to expect in 2016: Rio has a task on their hands to topple this spectacle, but they’ve pulled out all the stops with supermodel Gisele Bundchen headlining this year’s opening ceremony in a samba theme, which has been labelled the “sexiest ever” in Olympic history.

 

2. Michael Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte

Image IMG_5137 by Flickr user Rory (CC BY 2.0)
Image IMG_5137 by Flickr user Rory (CC BY 2.0)

The showdown between these two swimming heavyweights was deemed the biggest clash of the tournament. Both Americans, both 27 at the time. On one corner, it was legend Michael Phelps, a veteran of the sport and on the other side stood Ryan Lochte, who’d just burst onto the swimming circuit – capturing medals and supporters’ hearts along the way.

At their first meeting in the games, Lochte ran out the winner, finishing first in the 400-metre individual medley while Phelps limped to a shocking fourth place finish. The veteran wasn’t down and out yet, he fought back to win the 200-metre medley beating off Lochte by a fractional 0.63 seconds. Both men were beaming in public but it’s safe to say that this was just the opening battle of a huge rivalry.

What to expect in 2016: The duo have been entangled with each other since London – fighting to be considered the top swimmer in the world. Neither have lost their edge, despite Phelps’ brief retirement from the sport after the 2012 games. And, with both set to compete against one another this Olympics, expect another tantalising clash between the sport’s two behemoths.

 

3. Robert Harting’s memorable celebration

Germany's Robert Harting jumps over a hurdle as he celebrates winning the men's discus throw final during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium August 7, 2012. Harting won gold ahead of Iran's Ehsan Hadadi who took silver and Estonia's Gerd Kanter who won bronze. REUTERS/David Gray (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT ATHLETICS OLYMPICS) - RTR36EFZ
REUTERS/David Gray

People may not remember Robert Harting’s gold medal winning discus throw, but few will forget the German’s iconic celebration. Harting won gold after a throw of 68.27-meters, and on receiving the medal, the athlete ripped his shirt in a nod to comic book superhero “The Hulk”.

But that wasn’t it, Harting embarked on a victory run towards the women’s hurdles and breathtakingly cleared every hurdle. He even managed to keep his German flag draped around him. His sensational celebration is easily, one of the lasting memories from the London Olympics.

What to expect in 2016: Harting is the current European and Olympic champion, making him one of the headline acts in the 2016 games. And, most competitors are not at Harting’s level – so expect another surreal celebration in Rio from the towering German.

 

4. David Rudisha’s incredible 800-metre record breaking run

Image David Rudisha by Flickr user SNappa2006 (CC BY 2.0)
Image David Rudisha by Flickr user SNappa2006 (CC BY 2.0)

Usually, majority of Olympics viewers tend to watch the 100-metre, 200-metre or even 400-metre races, which are more fast-paced. However, in the 2012 games, Kenya’s David Rudisha stole the show with an astonishing run. The Kenyan, stormed his way to gold with a time of 1 minute and 40.91 seconds – 0.10 seconds less than his previous record.

To put the race into historic perspective – Britain’s Andrew Osagie finished last, with a time that would have won him gold in the previous three Olympics. An exhilarating spectacle for audiences who weren’t expecting such fleet-footed action from the 800-metre race.

What to expect in 2016: Surprisingly, Rudisha just managed to scrape into the 2016 Olympics after finishing third in the trials – the final qualifying spot. However, the Kenyan has hit back at critics stating, “I am focused and determined to defend my title.” Will he be able to best his own record? Stay tuned.

 

5. Jamaican dominance

Image Usain Bolt off the blocks by Flickr user Nick Webb (CC BY 2.0)
Image Usain Bolt off the blocks by Flickr user Nick Webb (CC BY 2.0)

Usain Bolt is synonymous with track and field events. Probably the most popular athlete in the past decade, Bolt has broken record after record and become the undisputed king of Olympic racing. However, the London games showed that Bolt isn’t the only speedy athlete in Jamaica. His fellow Jamaicans – Yohan Blake and Warren Weir proved their mettle with stellar showings in the track events.

While Bolt won both 100-metre and 200-metre, Blake and Weir were not far behind and finished second and third respectively, in the 200-metre race. Thereby, ensuring that the podium had three Jamaicans on it – a lasting image of the current golden era for Jamaica’s athletes.

What to expect in 2016: While Weir may not make it to Rio, Blake will be there to support and perhaps even challenge Bolt, in what looks like another games ruled by Jamaica’s track runners.

 

Featured image Teams parade around the stadium by Flickr user The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (CC BY 2.0)

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skillsfuture_300x250

by Vir Chiniwala

THE Olympics is only three weeks away, however, it’s been dealt multiple blows after a litter of star athletes have ruled themselves out of the competition.

The deadly Zika virus, which leads to birth defects in children, is believed to be spreading rapidly in Rio de Janeiro. And with the disease able to be sexually transmitted, carriers of the virus could easily pass it to their partners. Measures have been taken though, with a record 450,000 condoms given out to Olympic athletes. However, according to the Harvard Public Health Review (HPHR), the chances of contracting the Zika virus are one in 636 – hence, most athletes have refused to take any chances and shunned participation in the Olympics.

Zika isn’t the only reason for player absences though – several athletes have pulled out of the games citing reasons ranging from fatigue to personal matters. Consequently, the loss of star athletes will impact the quality of various Olympic sports.

Below, we rank the sports that have been most impacted by player exits.

 

1. Golf

Image Rory Mcllroy by Flickr user Tour Pro Golf Clubs (CC BY 2.0)
Image Rory Mcllroy by Flickr user Tour Pro Golf Clubs (CC BY 2.0)

Golf makes its return to the Olympic games for the first time since 1904, but with its top athletes opting out of the games, there’s a strong possibility it won’t be a joyous memory. It’s easily the sport that’s most impacted by player absentees with the lack of numerous golfers critically impacting the quality and competitiveness of the sport.

The world’s top four players – Rory McIlroy; world number one Jason Day; US Open champion Dustin Johnson, and American prodigy Jordan Spieth have all chosen not to compete in Rio. And that’s just the beginning. 21 out of the 60 invited golfers have dropped out of the tournament. They’ve been unified in condemning the Zika virus and refused to take any chances by heading to Rio for the games. Mcllroy went as far as to say he would “not be” watching golf at home, with his focus on the “stuff that matters“. A withering assessment of an Olympic sport in desperate need of some support.

 

2. Tennis

Image Tomas Berdych by Flickr user Christian Mesiano (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Image Tomas Berdych by Flickr user Christian Mesiano (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Tomas Berdych leads the list of notable tennis absentees in Rio with the Czech posting a long statement on social media explaining his decision – refusing to endanger his family by taking part in the games. Berdych is joined by fellow Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and top 10 ranked – Milos Raonic, Dominic Thiem, Simona Halep, and the Bryan brothers from the tour in withdrawing from the event. Raonic, Halep, and the Bryan brothers have also cited Zika, while Thiem said he wanted to prioritise ATP tours over the games.

Furthermore, Australian duo Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios won’t take part after falling out with the Australian Tennis Association. They are known to have a bad reputation, but are nevertheless considered mercurial talents. Hence, seeing such a collection of stars miss out will be a major loss for fans of the sport and the games itself.

 

3. Basketball

Image Stephen Curry by Flickr user Keith Allison (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Image Stephen Curry by Flickr user Keith Allison (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A majority of famous American athletes have pulled out of the tournament and surprisingly none of them have mentioned Zika as the reason. Most have cited personal reasons and a tiring year-round schedule in the National Basketball Association (NBA) as the sole factor for their absence.

Titans of the sport, Lebron James and Stephen Curry, listed these reasons and stated their need for some recuperation after a physically and mentally exhausting domestic season. Curry also stated that he “followed the reports and got educated about it (Zika)”. Echoing a similar chorus, fellow NBA players – Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, and Kawhi Leonard have stated the need for recuperation as the chief reason in not participating in the Olympics next month.

 

4. Ski Racing

Image Lindsey Vonn wins Audi FIS World Cup by Flickr user U.S. Ski Team (CC BY 2.0))
Image Lindsey Vonn wins Audi FIS World Cup by Flickr user U.S. Ski Team (CC BY 2.0)

The sport only has one absentee, but unfortunately for loyal followers, that athlete is none other than Lindsey Vonn – the most decorated ski racer currently still in the sport. “I was going to (go),” she told the American tabloid People, “but I think with the Zika and everything, it’s probably just better that I watch from home”. 

The iconic American is the poster-child of the sport and is well-known to even those who are not ardent followers of ski racing. With her absence, it immediately reduces the glamour that the sport brings to the games – thereby likely to lower interest levels for the sport.

 

5. Cycling 

Image Tejay Van Gardener and his baby by Flickr user Richard Masoned (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Image Tejay Van Garderen and his baby by Flickr user Richard Masoner (CC BY-SA 2.0)

American cyclist Tejay van Garderen withdrew his name from Olympic consideration due to concerns about the Zika virus and the potential effects it could have on his pregnant wife.

The cyclist was the first big-name athlete to opt out of the games and while admitting that “the risks were minimum” he was adamant that “(he) didn’t want to risk bringing anything back that could have an effect”. Seeing a top cyclist like van Garderen opting out probably encouraged other sportsmen who were hesitant about taking part in the games to follow suit.

 

Featured image Morro dois Irmãos by Flickr user Rodrigo Soldon (CC BY 2.0).

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China Footballer Hulk

by Vir Chiniwala

WHO would’ve thought that in the year England’s top football league made a record breaking television rights deal of £5.14 billion (S$9.19 billion), the headlines of the world would be focused on football in China. Over the past year, the Middle Kingdom has spent top dollar attracting high-profile (but perhaps somewhat middling) players from around the world and putting a viable playing structure in place.

Subsequently, there has been an influx of footballers who have opted to leave premier footballing nations such as France, England, and Italy to venture into Asia. After spending mind boggling sums including an outlay of €331 million (S$495 million) on transfer fees, the Chinese Super League (CSL) has smashed through the footballing elite to now become an abode for several well-known players.

Generally, the standard in Asian football in particular is much lower than that of its European or South American counterparts. China has only qualified for one football World Cup and crashed out at the group stage – losing all three games.

However, with Chinese President Xi Jinping being a huge admirer of the sport, things are set to change. Footballing icon Zlatan Ibrahimović recently flirted with the idea of playing in CSL after being offered a reported £1.16 million (S$2.07 million) a week by an unnamed Chinese club. He ultimately rejected the proposal but that hasn’t deterred the country from splashing the cash in the football transfer market.

Shanghai SIPG – a team in the division recently signed Brazilian international footballer Hulk (Givanildo Vieira de Sousa), in a mouth-watering deal of £46 million (S$82 million) with the forward earning of £17 million (S$30.3 million) a year after tax. It’s made him the joint second-highest paid player in the world tied with Lionel Messi and behind only Cristiano Ronaldo – considered the two best players in the world. Though he is not as talented, Hulk is well-known, and a few years ago it would’ve been unthinkable to see a player of his reputation plying his trade in China.

Graziano Pelle – part of the Italian team at Euro 2016 and a player for Southampton in England, joined Shandong Luneng this month to become the sixth best-paid player in the world, with a salary of £13 million (S$24.6 million) a year. The Italian has never been considered a top player, but his image does add prestige to a developing league.

To put Pelle’s outsized salary into perspective, Ibrahimović earns a million less at Manchester United in England. Pepe, a defender part of Portugal’s triumphant Euro 2016 winning squad earns €3.8 million (S$5.8 million) at Real Madrid in Spain. A colossal difference. Below is a list of the 10 highest paid footballers – four of them play in China. But such is the value of stardust: Even lower quality players can take home fortunes playing in the Chinese heartland.

 

PlayerSalary per yearCurrent Club (Country)Year JoinedPrevious Club (Country)
Cristiano Ronaldo$31.3 millionReal Madrid (Spain)2009Manchester United (England)
Lionel Messi$30.2 millionBarcelona (Spain)2004Barcelona Academy Graduate (Spain)
Hulk$30.2 millionShanghai SIPG (China)2016Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia)
Neymar$28.3 millionBarcelona (Spain)2013Santos (Brazil)
Graziano Pelle$24 millionShandong Luneng (China)2016Southampton (England)
Zlatan Ibrahimović$23 millionManchester United (England)2016Paris St. Germain (France)
Thomas Müller$20.2 millionBayern Munich (Germany)2008Bayern Munich Academy Graduate (Germany)
Ezequiel Lavezzi$19.4 millionHebei China Fortune (China)2016Paris St. Germain (France)
Jackson Martinez$18.7 millionGuangzhou Evergrande (China)2016Atletico Madrid (Spain)
Thiago Silva$17.9 millionParis St. Germain (France)2011AC Milan (Italy)

 

Evolution in Chinese football

Just two years ago, Shanghai were failing to convince lower-league players to jump ship, but with President Xi’s backing, they’ve found a solution – aggressive spending.

Apart from Hulk, the CSL have bolstered their ranks with a litter of international stars. Alex Teixeria joined Chinese club Jiangsu Suning in January this year, rejecting the advances of English club Liverpool for a contract in China. Yes, his pay-packet significantly improved, but it speaks volumes that a club with the stature of Liverpool was unable to persuade a player to choose them over the riches of China.

Hence, there could be a day in the foreseeable future where we see the Ronaldos or the Messis of the footballing world donning the kits of a Chinese club.

Messi vowed never to play for another team apart from Barcelona, but with their financial struggles, would the Argentinean be able to turn down a significantly higher pay in China? If Hulk earns such a fortune, imagine what Messi – the world’s player of the year, could stand to make in Asia?

 

 

Head of Shanghai’s recruitment Mads Davidsen attempted to clarify a common misconception about the CSL – an apparent league for footballers close to retirement.

In an interview with the BBC, he stated: “People think it’s easy to play in China, you come here, earn a lot of money and take it easy. That is a massive misunderstanding.” A lesser known fact is that there are only five overseas players allowed per team – hence, one can understand why they offer outrageous sums of money in order to attract recognised players.

CSL’s goal of reaching the top-table of football depends largely on President Xi. His backing to the project has been integral in reaching its current position. With the head of the state barely half-way through his 10-year tenure, and intent on leaving a legacy – there is a strong possibility of lasting success.

“People think it’s easy to play in China, you come here, earn a lot of money and take it easy. That is a massive misunderstanding.”

 

Will it last?

Critics argue that this level of reckless spending is tarnishing the sport, with players downgrading to a lower quality league to earn a much higher salary. But that’s how several iconic teams also reached the summit of world football.

France’s Paris St. Germain (PSG) England’s Manchester City and Chelsea are just a few teams who relied on heavy investment to get to where they are now. If CSL can ride the initial waves of criticism like those teams did, it could end up being a premier destination for the sport.

Mr Xi has set out a plan to ensure that Chinese football develops in the long-term into a top level footballing nation. He wants China to have over 20,000 football schools by next year, have a Chinese sports economy of $1.1 trillion – the current global one is $540 billion, and finally the boldest one – host and win the World Cup in the next 15 years. These are grand targets, but the way Chinese football is accelerating, it may not be all that preposterous.

Fan engagement will also play a pivotal role in the league’s continuation. Like their English counterparts, the CSL recently agreed a television rights deal for $1.6 billion with Chinese Media Capital (CMC). While audiences are increasing, stadiums still remain nearly half empty leading to a meagre revenue from match day tickets. An unsustainable model in the long run.

A recent study also indicated that the player investments in CSL wasn’t worth the money. Several of these players are established figures and are performing admirably in China, but were bang average in Europe’s elite leagues.

In the long-term, teams must start looking towards better caliber players if they intend to make this project a lasting success. Spending fortunes on smaller stars improves the quality of the league – but, if they are to match President Xi’s lofty ambitions they must progress on an international scale.

 

Can’t get enough of football? Click on the links below to read our coverage on the beautiful (and not so beautiful) moments of the sport:

  1. Is Brexit an “own goal” for Britain?
  2. Euro 2016: Who’s going to win?
  3. Euro2016: Best moments of the beautiful game (so far)
  4. Euro2016: Want to impress your football-loving date? Use this cheatsheet
  5. 5 notable things about the Euro 2016 Final
  6. Tax fraud: How celebrity footballers keep their millions

 

Featured image by REUTERS.

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Barcelona's forward Lionel Messi (2nd R) arrives at a court to answer charges of tax evasion in Gava, northern Spain, September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Albert Gea/Files - RTX2JXK5

by Vir Chiniwala

IT’S common understanding that the biggest football stars earn millions. What’s also commonly known, but probably less publicised, is that many evade taxes in order to keep those millions.

Now this issue is in the spotlight after a ruling that found celebrity footballer Lionel Messi and his father guilty of evading tax from 2007 to 2009 by using tax havens in Belize and Uruguay. Shockwaves were sent across the sporting world after the duo were both handed a 21-month jail sentence and a further fine of $5.96 million in the past week.

In April, Messi was named in the infamous Panama Papers. The leaked reports stated that Messi and his father were co-signatories of a shell company, “Star Enterprises” and a hefty part of his mammoth S$72 million salary headed there to avoid taxes. The Messi family hit back at these “false and injurious claims” while stating that the company was “inactive and dormant”, with lawyers painting the sportsman as the real victim in this case. Over the past few months around the sporting world, the Argentinean became the poster child for tax evasion.

He’s not the only one though.

Similar to Messi, his Barcelona teammate and international compatriot, Javier Mascherano has also been embroiled in tax dispute allegations over the past few months. Exactly like his fellow Argentinean, Mascherano was handed a prison sentence but will likely never spend a day in prison.

The defender refused to pay an additional fine and was allowed a two-year delay for his sentence after failing to pay $2.16 million in taxes. The former Liverpool player concealed his earnings in image rights by using his established companies in the United States and Portugal.

Image Mascherano_casagob by Casa Rosada Presidencia de la Nación (CC BY-SA 2.0) Image Mascherano_casagob by Casa Rosada Presidencia de la Nación (CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

But if you think that these cases are going to have any impact at all on other celebrity footballers and how they squirrel their millions away, think again.

Despite the media frenzy around Messi’s conviction, the truth is that this is just a mere ripple in the pond. These sorts of slap on the wrist punishments are not likely to deter footballers or their agents from continuing to pursue aggressive commercial revenue while minimising their taxes.

“We are all Leo Messi” is the tagline to Barcelona’s campaign of public support towards their captain. Although it received a hostile reaction from the social media community, the campaign shows just how insignificant these rulings are in the club’s eyes. Yes, Messi’s name has been besmirched but public perception of the man has scarcely altered. The campaign itself received more flak than the Argentinean’s verdict.

 

 

It highlights the trivial impact that this case has had on football in general. Amazon and Qatar Airways are still fighting to become Barcelona’s shirt sponsor. Despite being embroiled in a perplexing tax evasion case like Messi, Brazilian footballer Neymar is the mantlepiece in Gillette’s new campaign for this year’s Olympic games. He was ordered by a Brazilian court to pay $67 million in fines and back-taxes in March. And for what? You guessed it, failure to report earnings from club contracts and sponsorship deals. But, it’s business as usual in the footballing world with Messi’s trial hardly hampering the functioning of the commercial sporting industry.

Throughout their respective cases, Messi and Mascherano were free to continue playing football and have the public support of Barcelona. Courts were also more than accommodating with the trial dates so that these players would be able to continue their careers

 

The illusion of “image rights”?

Image OPEN TOP by Flickr user torbakhopper (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Image OPEN TOP by Flickr user torbakhopper (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Another reason why the ruling is unlikely to change anything has to do with how these celebrity footballers evade taxes – by utilising their image rights.

Image rights in football are any monetary gains made by a footballer for his endorsement or promotion of a certain brand. According to sports lawyer, Mr Daniel Geey, clubs set up image rights accounts for their players with a general pre-determined per cent of their salary going into this account.

Just like Messi’s deal with Adidas, this is the case for any celebrity footballer who is asked to endorse a product or is paid to be brand ambassador – including David Beckham for H&M and Cristiano Ronaldo for Tag Heuer. Commercial revenues earned go into this account. In reality, not only do these commercial revenues go into this account, but also large parts of these players’ salaries. Just what percentage of his salary goes to this account is at the discretion of the player.

Now this is where the paper trail gets tricky, most of these accounts are usually registered in shell companies by the player themselves, which are based in an offshore location. In simple terms, these accounts are an easy method for footballers to evade paying the large taxes on their six figure salaries in their home country. So basically, players who take home a massive weekly wage along with sponsorship income pay only a minute tax on them by keeping the money in tax havens.

Mascherano did not declare his earnings from Nike by keeping the money is his US company, while also failing to announce the commercial revenue he earned in Portugal. Hence, he avoided paying tax on these incomes for two years according to the Spanish court.

It’s a feint also employed by football clubs – for example, it’s widely known that Real Madrid contractually oblige players to concede 50 per cent of image rights to the club. In England, Manchester City kept a sale of £24.5 million image rights as an asset at a time where footballing financial bodies were ascertaining its monetary eligibility. To this date, it is yet unknown as to where this sum went.

Closer to home, Ronaldo recently sold half of his image rights to Singaporean businessman, Peter Lim. With the massive savings on taxes, is it any wonder that these players are more than ready to cede image rights to interested parties – a ridiculous deal that lines already dense pockets.

With the widespread reach of such practices, authorities are beginning to catch on. In 1999, the UK passed a law that stated a maximum of 20 per cent of income could be registered as image rights, and the company needed to be registered in Britain.

But there are many who say the law lacks teeth, because of a loophole that allows footballers to keep the money by classifying purchases with it as “business expenses”. Sports writer, Mr Ian Herbert summed it up perfectly for The Independent:

Sit on it: that’s best. If you pay yourself a dividend out of your account, you’ll be taxed on it at 45 per cent. Pay for stuff with it, instead. If you can convince the taxman that a new car or house is a business expense then you can charge that back, reduce your profit and, naturally, claim back the 20 per cent VAT on the outlay.

This corroborates once again, just how effortless it is for various sporting celebrities to skip past laws as if they’re cones on the training ground. With more clubs looking to commercialise their players, it seems inevitable that several more shell companies are looming on the horizon.

Unless authorities crack down harder on these offences and tighten up the regime on an international scale, the next time anyone thinks football, it won’t be about how beautiful the game is, but how corruption has altogether consumed it.

 

Featured image by REUTERS/Albert Gea.

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Queensway shopping centre

by Wan Ting Koh

FOR an old mall, 40-year-old Queensway Shopping Centre certainly seems to exude a youthful vibe. Perhaps it’s the streams of young people who visit the mall for its sporting goods, or the young families who visit the assortment of opticians and spectacle shops for eyewear.

Or the students who visit the third floor of the mall to get their class T-shirts printed. Some others treat the old mall as a favourite after-school haunt for the McDonald’s outlet overlooking Alexandra Road on the second floor. There are also some who head there to enjoy local fare – the famous Katong Laksa from Janggut The Original Katong Laksa Since 1950 or 328 Katong Laksa, located next to each other on the ground floor.

According to a 2009 report in the Straits Times, Katong Laksa was made popular by brothers Ng Juat Swee and Ng Chwee Seng. In 1963, the brothers first started selling the noodles in a hawker centre at a stall they named Marine Parade Laksa, located along 49 East Coast Road. The stall then branched out to include three other outlets at Bedok North Street 2, Roxy Square in East Coast Road and Queensway Shopping Centre. Currently, Janggut The Original Katong Laksa is managed by Mr Ng Chwee Seng’s son and daughter, as reported in the 2009 ST article. 

In another newspaper article by ST published in 2009, food consultant K F Seetoh said that local laksa originated in Katong, from the area which was mostly populated by Peranakans. Mr Seetoh added that Mr Ng Juat Swee, who passed away in 1986, was the first to sell laksa in Singapore. In the 1950s, Mr Ng would hawk laksa by carrying the dish in metal buckets balanced on his shoulders.

Mrs Nancy Lim, who manages the competing stall, 328 Katong Laksa, took over Janggut’s unit at 01-60 after Janggut moved next door to 01-59. A similar occurrence took place in 1998, as after the Ngs left their stall at 49 East Coast Road because of an increase in rent, Mrs Lim took over their stall. Mrs Lim’s stall has five outlets including the one in Queensway Shopping Centre. The noodles in the laksa at Mrs Lim’s stall are cut into small pieces, so that customers can eat the dish with a spoon and not worry about dirtying their clothes with laksa gravy.

Standing at the junction of Alexandra Road and Jalan Bukit Merah, with a large bright LED screen over the main entrance greeting visitors, Queensway Shopping Centre was opened in the 1970s with much fanfare. According to a National Heritage Board booklet, residents in the Queenstown vicinity hailed the shopping centre, which has a 13 storey residential tower, as the “Orchard [which] had arrived on their doorstep”.

The mall’s opening date is contested by different sources. While the official website states that the mall was built in 1975 and opened in 1976, a heritage trail marker by the National Heritage Board which counts the building in its guided tours, claimed that the mall opened its doors in 1974 – a detail corroborated by several tenants we spoke to within the mall. Yet another Queenstown heritage trail booklet by the NHB claims the mall opened its doors in 1975.

Sports niche

The one thing that remains uncontested is the fact that the 150-unit mall is a sporting haven providing sports gear, from sports shoes to waterproof bags and sports-related services. You can still bring your unstrung tennis rackets here to have them restrung for about $20 to $30. Apart from sports equipment back then, it provided other goods, such as cosmetics, musical instruments, and music records as well. Now, walking into the mall’s maze-like interior, you can find the odd barber in a corner of the second floor or other shops selling comparatively uncommon items. For instance, a shop selling personal care products resides in another less frequented corridor of the second floor, opposite a shop selling vintage smoking pipes. A few shops selling army gear see a steady stream of customers from their spots in the twists and turns of the inner corridor – a testament to the unusual octagonal layout of the mall.

Layout of Queensway shopping centre
The unique octagonal layout of Queensway Shopping Centre, which houses sporting brands and services, since mid 1970s.

Queensway Shopping Centre was acquired as an investment and development property by City Developments Limited between the 1970s and 1980s, after it launched its first residential cum shopping development, City Plaza. Now the shop spaces are owned by individual landlords.

The third and uppermost retail floor in the main atrium, where our visit began, is occupied by at least eight printing and engraving services, such as Digital Printing Service and Ultra Supplies. The latter found infamy in the 1990s. According to The Straits Times, Ultra Supplies made the papers for copyright infringement in 1990. Along with two other printing services from other shopping centres, Ultra Supplies was sued by the Association of American Publishers for illegally photocopying their copyrighted works. Ultra Supplies managed to settle the issue out of court, but was still found by ST to be providing photostatting services for entire books, barely a month after the court injunction was served, as reported in an article published in October of the same year. While we did not see entire books being photostatted, we did see a lot of office workers frequenting the printing outlets.

Like many old malls, Queensway Shopping Centre has seen better days. Several old-timers concurred that traffic used to be busier. Madam Ah Siew, a manager at Surf & Skate, a shop selling all manner of bags and shoes, said that there were “much less people now” than there were when she first started work there some 10 years ago. Nevertheless, her shop has been standing on the ground floor of Queensway Shopping Centre for over 20 years.

The owner of a shoe shop, who declined to be identified, said that there were not many customers and attributed the occurrence to factors such as the bad market and the presence of online shopping websites. “To me okay la, maybe the other shops struggling. I not sure,” he said. Previously located at Funan Digitalife Mall, he shifted to Queensway Shopping Centre as his three-year-contract had ended. He added that while his shop at Funan experienced better human traffic, the rent was much higher as it is under Capitaland, a developer, unlike Queensway Shopping Centre which is under a private owner. According to listings on Property Guru, the rent for a shop space on the second floor can range between $2,200 – $2,500.

Good days, bad days

Others think that the profile of the mall’s visitors has evolved. Mr Louis Tan, a shop assistant at a sporting goods store, said that crowds comprise more tourists now compared to 10 years ago, when he first began working at Queensway Shopping Centre. Back then, he said, the mall was considered more “premier”, and hence had more local patrons. Yet there are periods of buzz, that give the mall a more lively atmosphere; Mr Tan cited the World Cup as a time when the mall enjoyed more customers due to factors like promotions on sporting goods, as well as themed decor. As for the future of Queensway Shopping Centre, Mr Tan hopes that the mall will be preserved, as he sees it as a “pioneer” mall in Singapore’s landscape.

Shops in queensway shopping centre
Shops selling footwear, sports goods and apparel, inside Queensway Shopping Centre.

Those who do get some amount of traffic derive it from the mall’s stalwarts. Newer tenants, such as Octagon SG50, one of the many spectacle shops on the second floor, gain some foot traffic from the McDonald’s outlet which still sees a steady stream of youngsters. When asked why they decided to set up shop seven months ago, owner Paul Chua, 40, said that since there were so many spectacle shops there, they could ride on the customers who came specifically to make spectacles.

Mr Chua also revealed that he used to work as an apprentice at a spectacle shop on the ground floor for about ten years before he opened his own business, selling spectacles for between $88 and $150. “HDB shops sell their frames for cheaper but if people know about Queensway Shopping Centre is concentrated with spectacle shops, then they will come her as they can compared which frame is the cheapest.”

At Hady Barber Shop, nestled on the second floor of the shopping centre, shop owner Mr Mmd Noh – or Matt – described traffic on the second floor as “moderate”. His business sees around 25 customers daily, the majority of whom are regulars. While his shop has only been in Queensway for a year, Mr Noh was a regular himself at the mall in the 70s, when he was a teen. He remembered it being famous for bell-bottom jeans, sports shoes, and other clothing items.

Another niche that has been absent from the mall for a while are outlets selling vinyl records. One of such an outlet stood in the place of the barber shop before it was rented out to a tailor, after which it finally became the barber shop that it is today. Now, he says that tenants around his barber change frequently, with shop spaces changing hands every six to seven months.

The congregation of sports shops is also the main draw for its youthful thoroughfare. Popular brands such as Converse and Kappa set up shop on the ground floor – the busiest part of the mall. It was where we found Mr Sam Tan with his friend when we spoke to him. Currently serving national service, the 20 year old said he would make a trip to Queensway Shopping Centre whenever he needed new basketball shoes.

“Here, I can buy shoes for a cheaper price sometimes. And there are more alternatives and choices. Sometimes they will also have older models that you cannot find outside,” he said.

A quick check of the shops revealed that some shops had 30 per cent markdowns from their original price tags. The shop Sports n More had Nike sports shoes selling for $90 instead of $129, Puma shoes going for $76 instead of $109 and Asics tagged at $139 instead of $199. Intersports – a sporting goods store on the third floor similar to the well-known Royal Sporting House – sells tank tops for $31.20 instead of $39 and a black Nike sports bra went for $46.75 instead of it original price tag of $59.

Mr Tan had been visiting the mall since some four to five years ago, and it brought back memories for him. However, he was pessimistic about the future of the mall, notwithstanding its niche market. “I think it will definitely be torn down next time. Singapore is always improving itself.”

Cherished memories

Others disagreed. Mrs Rahainah Abdullah, a 34-year-old home-maker who was at the mall with her two young children, said that she visits the Shopping Centre once every three months, mostly to get stationery supplies and jeans for her husband. When asked if the centre would survive, Mrs Abdullah said: “Yes, it can survive because it has its own specialty and targeted consumers, particularly in the [Queenstown] area.”

One of these targeted customers is Mon Khant, a 15-year-old student from nearby New Town Secondary School who comes to Queensway Shopping Centre for its variety and to find the newest models of basketball shoes. He pointed out Hoops Factory and Limited Edt, two shops on the ground floor which “have the latest releases first”.

“I came here since primary five. My friend told me about this shopping centre and everytime we come here after school almost every week. There is a lot of variety here,” he said, referring to the sporting equipment in the shopping centre.

Then there, are those who have been long-standing fans of Queensway Shopping Centre. Madam Betty Ong, a 71-year-old retiree, said that the shopping centre was a favourite haunt for her when she was young and that it was “very happening” back then. “Every time one of my friends needed to buy track shoes, the first thing we did was to come here,” Madam Ong said. “I needed to get a specific item so I came. There are a lot of sports items and souvenirs here compared to other shopping centres that sell branded items.”

For her, the mall had not lost its lustre. “The mall shouldn’t be torn down. Its still a nice place, can upgrade if need.”

 

This is the sixth piece in our eight-part series on well-loved old malls in Singapore. Also read about Peninsula Plaza, People’s Park Complex, Golden Mile ComplexCity Plaza and Katong Shopping Centre.

 

Additional reporting by Vishnu Preyei and Varsha Sivaram.

Featured image & images by Najeer Yusof. 

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REUTERS
RUSSIAN skiers hit the slopes of Sochi in swimwear, attempting to break a world record.

Hundreds of skiers wearing bikinis and colorful costumes try to break a Guinness World Record in Sochi, Russia.

Spring temperatures helped motivate participants in scantily clad outfits.

Local media say about 1000 people participated.

The current record is held by a 2013 ski parade in Sheregesh, Russia with 500 participants.

 

Featured Image and Video by Reuters.

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/henryleong/8671565170/in/photolist-4anUkp-6hnZKE-edh3dj-dM9RXZ-jE8v8C-uibaRd-u44eZV-uib9qs-ukGgFn-ukGfJH-ebBfKb-u3MKjN-uknXiF-uknY12-tomRm1-vA7aRd-ton1Yh-u44cuz-ukvjez-uk7fJm-u3Vym1-toxdBr-ujZ9jm-ujZ8wE-uko8Zv-ukz3DV-u3W4VF-ui42EN-u3Nkws-ukyZQP-ui3Xr7-u3NmZN-u3NsBj-uko7TH-ui3X17-ukoaSZ-u3NeJL-ujZ5Zq-ui3URs-u3MHHS-ukz6tH-tox8uT-ton1q3-uko9jD-u3W28g-uko9QD-ujZ7qG-u3NnJd-ukyUka-uko3YD
Photographed by Leong Him Woh

by Yoong Ren Yan

ANOTHER month, another fee dispute involving the Sports Hub. Its private operator, Sports Hub Pte Ltd (SHPL), slapped the organisers of the Youth Celebrate! event with a $900,000 bill for damage to the National Stadium’s pitch. Who are these unlucky organisers? None other than the Ministries of Education and Culture, Community and Youth.

That’s some expensive grass. That $900,000 tab exceeds the price of the original part-natural part-synthetic pitch, which cost $800,000. That material failed to take root, and had to be replaced in late 2014.

But after six months of back-and-forth, the charges have been waived, according to ST. This isn’t the first time a fee dispute has ended with SHPL backing down.

Last month, talks between SHPL and organisers of this year’s National Day Parade (NDP) were at an impasse over rents for rehearsals. Organisers at the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) wanted 35 additional rehearsal days, and SHPL was poised to charge them $26 million in rent – far more than the budget for a typical NDP.

The saga ended with SHPL charging MINDEF a reduced rent, said to be $10 million. Those negotiations allowed the NDP to return to the National Stadium for the first time in a decade.

And it isn’t just the G being put off by high fees. In the 18 months since the Sports Hub opened, concerts and tournaments alike have walked away after expressing tentative interest. One event organiser described its rent as “quite simply overpriced“.

As a result, the Sports Hub isn’t attracting the star-studded line-up some were expecting. To make matters worse, in the wake of each fee dispute, high-level staff leave SHPL – a worrying sign.

In trying to milk as much as it can from each event, SHPL seems desperate for revenue. And its rocky start can be traced back to how the private consortium came into being.

The Sports Hub isn’t just a national icon. Worth $1.33 billion, it’s among the world’s largest public-private partnerships (PPPs).

Sports facilities were traditionally government-built and government-run. But as the Ministry of Finance puts it in its PPP Handbook, keeping everything in-house isn’t necessarily the most “cost-effective”.

In August 2010, the SHPL consortium won the bid to build and operate the Sports Hub for 25 years. During that period, SHPL shoulders all costs directly. In return, it gets an “availability-based payment” from the G, as long as the Sports Hub is ‘made available’ for use.

Then the taxpayer saves money and the Sports Hub gets built. So far, so good.

But here’s the rub: unlike other PPPs here, the Sports Hub is also a business. SHPL earns money from hosting sporting and entertainment events. Yet given Singapore’s small domestic market, it lacks a “clear and recognisable revenue stream“. In other words, big-league performers don’t come here very often, and when they do, ticket sales may be poor.

By sharing SHPL’s revenues for events, the G has absorbed some of the commercial risk. But is that business model viable in the first place? The persistent fee disputes, and this year’s “threadbare” Sports Hub calendar, point to fundamental problems.

There are two possible explanations of what’s gone wrong with this PPP.

It could be that SHPL simply doesn’t have the appropriate expertise to score big-league performers and sell tickets. ST, for one, believes “capital investment” including improved acoustics could make the Sports Hub a more attractive venue. It then argues that government-linked companies should get involved. But would they have the right expertise?

Or the problem might be more intractable. Perhaps the business model won’t fly without further government subsidies. But having signed a contract in order to save the taxpayer money, the G won’t be keen to bail SHPL out.

The G could just wait this one out, of course, secure in the knowledge that this year’s NDP will be held at the National Stadium. But it’ll be hoping that the business model is actually sound, and that SHPL gets its act together fast.

Why might the G still act? Reputations are at stake. The Sports Hub is the “world-class” showpiece of Singapore’s network of sporting facilities. It also houses the headquarters of Sport Singapore – SHPL’s regulator.

And the National Stadium, after all, is still more national icon than PPP testbed.

 

Featured image by Flickr user Leong Him WohCC BY-SA 2.0

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