Do we need $420 million stadiums?

World Cup 2010 kicked off last Friday and I was beside myself! I won’t claim to LOVE football. I enjoy watching it tremendously, as I do major sporting events – World Cup, Olympics, Rugby World Cup, tennis Grand Slams, Formula One. There’s something about the human endeavour to compete, the display of team or individual spirit, the thrills and spills of competition that I find compelling.

But I’ve never thought about the cost of hosting such an event till this World Cup, and I know the moment it hit me – when I heard that Soccer City Stadium costs about $420million to build. I almost choked on my Tim Tam.

In recent times, these major sporting events have been held in developed nations or in the case of Beijing 2008, a nation on the fast track up; one that is flush with cash. It’s well documented that the huge amount spent hosting such games rarely produces return, but those countries don’t have the economic and social issues that South Africa has.

That is not to say a developing country shouldn’t host such events. By drawing attention to itself, South Africa is forced to work on urban planning and development. This benefits its people. And putting on a good show and having solid public infrastructure would bring in the tourists. That’s money well spent. But spending so much on a stadium?

Sports fans are a rabid bunch and I’m willing to bet big that a boring venue is the least of their concerns. It could be a concrete block with wooden benches and they’d still turn up to support their hero, team or country. So if the fans aren’t bothered, and an expensive sporting arena per se does not drive tourism or create much economic opportunity, what’s with all these multi-million dollar fancy-ass places?

I don’t know how we got to this stage where bigger is better, more is better, especially for countries that may not be able to afford it. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider the criteria for host cities.

FIFA, IOC and all these governing bodies need to change the rules of the bid. Cities must demonstrate how they can host a successful game with the least amount spent, there must be a ‘green’ plan for the games, there should be projections as to how all this spend will benefit the city and its people for years to come, a show of how cities will maintain all this new build so it doesn’t become a white elephant, programmes in place to demonstrate long term education and employment as a result of the games and so forth.

It’s difficult to dazzle with restraint, but that’s not a bad thing considering the economic mess we’re all in and the state of planet earth.

Changing the community one smile at a time

Here’s the scene:
I live in an apartment, one of 215 units spread over seven blocks. The lift opens out to two units per floor. Prior to getting a dog, I rarely saw other residents. My life was out of the apartment, into the lift, down to the carpark and off; return, out of the car, into the lift, back in the apartment.

These days, I walk around because the dog needs a walk. I see mums and their kids on school mornings gathered at the entrance, and occasionally, residents making their way around. What has become evident to me is this – the people most likely to greet me are foreigners. Fellow Singaporeans walk by quickly with nary an acknowledgement.

This same behaviour extends outside of my residence. When we take the dog out, dog owners who tend to stop and engage in friendly banter are foreigners. The instinct of most Singaporean dog owners is to pull their dog away and walk by quickly.

None of this is new of course. Much has been said about Singaporeans being an apathetic lot. Ask them for directions and you’d receive a reply so generic, it’d leave you more confused. Hold the door open and a stream of Singaporeans will walk through with no one bothering to say “Thank You”.

I could accept this as simply the Singaporean way; that Singaporeans lack social graces and are an insular bunch. On this small, crowded and hurried island, most people engage in transactional living, forgetting that people are behind the transactions.

Well, it’s time to wake up and smell the roses. It may be a rat race out there but we still live amongst the living. And it’s not as if Singaporeans can’t change. There are those who behave differently with foreigners. They greet them and are similarly warm and chatty, sometimes bending over backwards to help.

It comes down to a learned social behaviour. Start smiling and greeting your immediate neighbours and it’ll catch on. It may take a while and it could get frustrating but the end results will be worth it. I’d rather cross paths with someone who offers a breezy “Hello” than be greeted by silence and a blank stare.