Athletics: 'Blended sporting events' are key amid Covid-19 challenges, says MCCY's Tong

SINGAPORE – Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong has hailed blended sporting events that incorporate virtual and physical elements, and noted the business opportunities they can provide the Singapore sports industry.

Mr Tong was among the 16 guests and celebrities in the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon’s (SCSM) Race As One live show on Saturday (Dec 5).

The show featured elements of SCSM’s Grand Finale Celebration Experience at Gardens by the Bay and guests including Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin and Mr Tong ran a half marathon relay for the SCSM 2020 Charity Challenge.

For every 1km recorded by participants, Standard Chartered will donate $15 to help youth causes in Singapore. The target is $1 million.

Funds raised will be channelled through Community Chest in multi-year programmes in partnership with the members in its National Council of Social Service network.

The 19th edition of the SCSM, which runs till Sunday, incorporated a virtual race and featured augmented reality (AR) for the first time.

The SCSM traditionally attracts over 50,000 runners every year. About 50 per cent were foreigners last year.

As of Dec 3, this year’s SCSM Grand Finale hybrid race saw over 4,000 foreign runners taking part, 35 per cent of total sign-ups.

Mr Tong acknowledged that the different format was brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Covid-19 has changed the way sports events are organised. Through technology, we can… (give) participants a more engaging and interactive experience within safety guidelines,” he said in an e-mail interview with The Straits Times.

“For example, digital technologies can provide real-time feedback to participants, complementing social and entertainment elements of a sporting activity.”

He added that he hopes blended sports projects in Singapore can gain regional or international traction and help contribute to a more vibrant sports sector here amid the challenges of Covid-19.

The Grand Finale Celebration Experience also saw runners start to collect their race entitlements, which include a runner’s singlet and a memorabilia medal.

Participants had to pre-register for one of 32 half-hour timeslots over the weeekend. Only 25 people were allowed in the Flower Field Hall per session.

Other safety measures such as mandatory temperature taking and checking in via SafeEntry were also in place.

Despite the different format, runners were still excited to collect their goodie bags and pose for photos.

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Yue Chin Beng, who signed up for the Rouvy VR 10km with his friend Lau Hock Bee, liked that they could pose at a backdrop of the finishing line this year

“Usually, it’s a candid shot and you won’t know when it’s taken, whether you look tired or what you’ll look like,” said Yue, 60, who participated in the SCSM for the sixth time.

While he could not run in a crowd and pace himself against other runners this year, Yue was happy to have a “buddy run” with Lau as the two tackled the 10km distance together at East Coast Park.

Yue said: “At least we can accompany each other and motivate each other, even though he can run faster than me.”

Lau, 62, added that while he missed watching the sunrise while running in the physical event, he liked the convenience of choosing when and where he could complete this year’s run.

Ong Ling Lee, director of sports at Singapore Tourism Board (STB), said this hybrid and immersive format for events is here to stay.

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She said the use of virtual platforms, AR and virtual reality “offer interactive and engaging content that help to elevate the audience experience”.

“For now, virtual formats allow visitors to have a taste of what they hope to see during an events and when they eventually travel. However, it will not fully replace the excitement that comes with experiencing an event physically. As such, we hope to be able to welcome visitors in person for our sporting events in Singapore when the time is right,” she added.

On the possibility of the return of more marquee events and more spectators next year, she said: “With the pilot pre-event testing and the gradual resumption of leisure events, STB is working closely with industry partners to monitor the situation and resume some sporting events in a careful and calibrated manner. We have also developed testing protocols for foreign athletes and crew to ensure public health is not at risk.

“STB has curated a vibrant calendar of world-class sporting events over the years, and we look forward to welcoming sports fans back to experience Singapore’s innovative and exceptional events when the time is right.”

This follows the resumption of live sporting events in Singapore such as the Singapore Premier League (SPL), the EFG Singapore Junior Masters and One Championship fights.

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One Championship’s events allowed 250 spectators while 200 fans were allowed into Our Tampines Hub for the SPL season finale between Tampines Rovers and Geylang International on Saturday.

Mr Tong added that the authorities are working on bringing back more sporting events for Singaporeans too.

“As many Singaporeans are eager to participate and enjoy sports events, we are working towards resuming more large-scale events in a safe manner,” he said.

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