Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Vivian B and the YOG splurge


It was a wrong estimate, but still there are “no regrets” because the event was “value for money”.

That is all embattled PAP minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan has got to say after splurging $387 million dollars of taxpayers’ monies to host the most expensive “sports day” for children in the world.

Of course he has no regrets because he is not footing the bill and neither will he be held accountable for his reckless spending spree.

For all the excuses Dr Vivian has come up with to defend his utter incompetence, not a single one holds. There is simply no excuse in burst the YOG budget by more than three times.

Dr Vivian blamed the underestimate on his ministry’s “lack of experience” in organizing a sports event on such a grand scale, but then Singapore has hosted regional events like the SEA Games before and he could have waited for others to host the event first and send his officials to study how they run it before rushing into the decision to bid for the YOG.

The onus lies on Dr Vivian and his team to assess for themselves if Singapore is ready to host the YOG. Even Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong admitted in 2007 that Singapore may not be quite ready to bid for it. Why is there an urgency to host the inaugural YOG when we still lack the experience to do so? It is not as if there will only be one YOG

Dr Vivian added it was the first YOG and ‘both the International Olympic Committee and us were starting from scratch’, but YOG does have a precursor to it – the World Youth Games which was held in Moscow in 1997 whose main objective was to involve young people in the Olympic movement.

More than 7,500 young athletes under 17 years of age representing 140 countries competed in a variety of sports that included basketball, soccer, volleyball, handball, tennis and table tennis, track and field athletics, swimming, synchronized swimming, gymnastics and modern rhythmic gymnastics, fencing, judo and Greco-Roman wrestling.

Did Dr Vivian send a team to learn from Moscow’s experience in hosting the World Youth Games?

The breakdown of the expenditure was also scanty and incomplete at best. (source: STmedia)

The bulk of the budget goes to “technology for score-keeping” which costs us $97 million dollars, or nearly the entire initial budget of $104 million dollars.

Will these new technologies be deployed for local sporting events in the future?

Live broadcast via multiple media and the opening and closing ceremonies cost another $45.5 million dollars.

If the YOG is indeed a world class premier sporting event as proclaimed by the organizers, shouldn’t we be getting paid for its broadcast rights instead of the other way round?

$14.3 million dollars was spent on language translation, laundry and catering services. It was reported in the media that the athletes enjoyed a daily buffet spread of up to 42 meals.

According to some volunteers, there is plenty of wastage of the food and a few athletes even bought fast food to eat at the premises of the Youth Olympic Village. Is there really a need to provide so much food for a youth event spanning only 12 days?

Lastly, the international ”journey” of the Youth Olympic Games costs an eye-popping $7 million dollars. How does the journey help to develop local sporting talent?

Dr Vivian can continue to boast about the intangible benefits of YOG such as “laying a strong foundation for Singapore’s sporting culture, especially in spectatorship, community involvement and volunteer engagement,” but without any concrete evidence or statistics to show, these are mere empty words.

He claimed that Singapore will “recoup” its investments in the YOG without quoting any figures of the amount we have earned so far as a result of the YOG.

Using the Beijing Olympic Games as a yardstick to justify the over-blown budget of the YOG smacks of utter desperation on the part of Dr Vivian.

According to international market research firm Nielsen, the Beijing Olympics attracted 4.7 billion TV viewers worldwide. The figure, based on data from 37 viewing markets from August 8-24, surpassed the 3.9 billion who watched the 2004 Athens Games and the 3.6 billion of the 2000 Sydney Games, Nielsen said.How many people watch the Youth Olympic Games? Is the publicity we are getting worth the money spent?

For the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony alone, Nielsen estimated that almost one-third of the world’s population, or about 2 billion people, watched the event.

As we can see for ourselves, the YOG received little attention from the international media unlike the Beijing Olympic Games. In fact, it hit the headlines for the wrong reason – the arrest of a YOG critic by the Singapore police which reinforced Singapore’s poor reputation as a repressive one-party state.

Dr Vivian should offer a public apology to Singaporeans for the numerous YOG screw-ups such as the ticketing glitches, poor attendance, mistreatment of volunteers, mass food poisoning outbreak and safety lapses at the venues instead of glossing over them to make himself look good.

Unfortunately, with no genuine opposition in parliament to check on the ruling party, Singaporeans have no choice but to accept Dr Vivian’s lame explanation that he has been “caught off guard” again like many of his other PAP colleagues.

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