SPORT can play a unique role in rallying people, but it is crucial for spectators to be supportive, said Singapore National Olympic Council president Tan Chuan-Jin.

Likening athletes to modern day gladiators, he urged Singapore fans “to learn to become better supporters”.

While most were behind the sportsmen at the recent South-east Asian Games, he was dismayed at some fans’ reactions at the football match between Singapore and Indonesia.

It got “a bit ugly” he recalled. The players, whom he met before the matches, gave their all, he said.

“As supporters, we need to be mindful that it really takes a lot to compete. Good, bad, you have to support.”

Team coach Aide Iskandar had hit out at some fans for their verbal abuse of the players.

Added Mr Tan: “I always hold myself back. I should not be commenting on that game as I am not an expert. It helps when athletes know people are backing them up. We need to learn to become better supporters.

After all, everyone – athletes and supporters – is on the same team: Team Singapore.

“In modern days when you don’t have wars, the athletes are your gladiators fighting and representing your country in a non-bloody way.”

Sport has “a unifying effect”, he said. “It’s a way of instilling pride. Pride isn’t just about winning. Pride is in the way you represent your country, which can have a very constructive and positive effect on nation building.”

In that regard, he believes the Games have given the host country’s celebrations of 50th year of independence, or SG50 for short, a sharp boost.

Singaporeans would not feel less proud if the Games were held on another year, said Mr Tan, who is also Minister for Social and Family Development.

But the marriage of both occasions amplified the sentiments.

“It gives you a sense of us coming of age as a nation in many ways,” he said. “It gives it an even more meaningful tone to what we have achieved.

“For a lot of athletes, they also knew that doing it in the 50th year, there was extra motivation. They were all very motivated. It provided a richer backdrop that went quite deep for many. It did make a difference.”

The Games, coming less than two months before National Day on Aug 9, were a wonderful warm up.

“My sense running around all the different games and talking to people, there was a strong sense of unity. We saw that in bucket loads when Mr Lee Kuan Yew passed away. But that was quite phenomenal.

“This also seemed to have quite a rallying effect, uniting together to cheer for the athletes – quite powerful. You couldn’t ask for a better build up,” he observed.

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