Singaporean dark horse in IOC race campaigns on promise of change
03 September 2013 Print version
There is more to Ng Ser Miang’s assertion that it’s time an Asian heads the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
As the 64-year old Chinese-born Singaporean national campaigns to succeed Belgium’s Jacques Rogge as head of the IOC when its executive committee meets in Buenos Aires on September 10, Mr. Ng projects himself as an agent of change in line with the winds of the times. His proposed reforms of the 119-year old organization promise what he terms ‘a fresh perspective.’ Were Mr. Ng, an IOC vice president since 2009, to succeed against the odds, he would be the first non-Westerner to head one of the world’s oldest and most powerful sports associations, symbolizing the perceived shift of global power from West to East.
A self-made wealthy businessman who operates Singapore’s largest supermarket chain, Mr. Ng, considered a dark horse in the IOC race, has said that he would cut the costs of staging Olympic games, look at downsizing the size and scale of tournaments, enhance cooperation with national Olympic committees, empower his deputies and staff, tackle doping and illegal betting and focus on youth in the developing world.
Speaking to journalists, Mr. Ng, a former competitive sailor and Singapore’s non-resident ambassador to Norway, asserted that the handing over of the IOC’s reins to an Asian would be "important not just symbolically but for the values they can bring to the table as well, when we talk about universality, different value systems, different cultures, different ways of looking at issues and challenges, which also means that you have different solutions, coming from different angles and different perspectives. I believe that's going to be very, very useful to the movement and very important to the movement in future."
In a crowded field in which Thomas Bach of Germany is widely viewed as the front runner, Mr. Ng is believed to be second followed by Puerto Rican banker Richard Carrion. Ukrainian pole-vault champion Sergey Bubka, Denis Oswald of Switzerland and International Boxing Federation head CK Wu of Taiwan.
Responding to protest
Whether by design or default, key elements of Mr. Ng’s agenda respond to widespread dissent, defiance and lack of confidence in institutions expressed in mass protests across the globe from Chile and Brazil to Occupation Wall Street in the United States to Istanbul’s Taksim Square, the popular revolts rocking the Middle East and North Africa, and demonstrations in Indonesia.
Sports, athletes and fans have often been at the center of these protests, suggesting that international and national sports associations cannot ignore the demands for change, involving increased transparency and accountability as well as greater sensitivity to social issues and less incestuous affinity with often autocratic leaders or elected officials whose majoritarian concepts of democracy are illiberal.
The cost of hosting the World Cup and the Olympic Games in Brazil in 2014 and 2016 cut to the core of frustration that erupted on the streets of Brazilian cities earlier this year.
References of various Brazilian protesters to the World Cup and world soccer body FIFA asserting that the tournament perpetuates their country’s urban problems, disenfranchise voters by depriving them of a say in the use of public funds and tax dollars, dislocates large population groups and establishes FIFA as a state within a state should serve as a wake-up call.
Mr. Ng’s proposals cater to those concerns. They also address widespread unease with the power of financial muscle in the world of sports expressed in continued questioning of the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar almost three years after it won the hosting rights. Qatar’s ability and willingness to allocate far larger sums to its bid campaign as compared to its competitors has raised the stakes for would be hosts, particularly in the developing world, that do not have the funds to wage expensive campaigns and invest heavily in infrastructure that may not benefit their countries in the long term.
With youth playing a major role in the wave of protests that have marked the first three years of the second decade of this century, Mr. Ng’s plan to significantly expand the IOC’s Olympic youth development centers in developing countries targets the young that are at the core of overriding dissent and defiance. His reaching out to grassroots is akin to the activities of the Asian Football Development Project (AFDP) set up by Jordanian Prince Ali Al Hussein, who as FIFA vice president is another reformer within the international sports world.
Mr. Ng chaired the inaugural Youth Olympic Games, which he co-founded, in Singapore in 2010, and was a driving force behind the city-state's rise from a sporting backwater to a regional hub with Formula One in its portfolio. His office in the yet to be completed $1.3 billion Singapore’s Sports Hub that includes a 55,000 seat stadium projects the country’s ambition to become a global sports center, a goal it pursues without the Gulf’s pomp and circumstance.
A double-edged sword
Mr. Ng’s promise to root out corruption, doping and illegal betting is boilerplate for any candidate for high office in a world that has and is wracked with repeated scandals. For the Singaporean, this pledge is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, he represents a nation that ranks among the world’s top five least corrupt and that prides itself on its tough anti-corruption attitude. On the other hand, Singapore has long been home to syndicates at the heart of international soccer match-fixing scandal and was seen to be slow in cracking down on them.
Mr. Ng’s style of quiet diplomacy reflects Singapore’s low key approach to sports. As the IOC’s point man on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Mr. Ng has been seeking to ensure that the tournament is not marred by recent Russian anti-gay legislation. “In such cases where diplomacy is at work, we should limit to the effectiveness of the quiet diplomacy," Mr. Ng says.
That is likely to be his approach to reform within the IOC. Mr. Ng has pledged to spend in his first six months half a day with each of the 115 national federations after which he would gather them for a retreat that would focus on tackling key issues confronting the IOC. If he unexpectedly wins, Mr. Ng has his work cut out for him.
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog.