Team Singapore’s secret 3S: security, support and SOPs

The volunteers at every major Games form part of the support system for the athletes - pictured here are the 2018 Asian Games volunteers and the Team Singapore secretariat team

26 Nov 2019

Sometimes, things do not go as planned. In this second of a two-parter, we reveal how Team Singapore deals with unexpected challenges during major Games.

By Ignatius Koh

Sports is about speed, strength, stamina. Few want to talk about security, support and goodness no, certainly not the dreaded mouthful of “standard operating procedures”.

Yet every elite athlete knows that a logistical backbone is the spine behind their attention-grabbing performances. Someone had looked at the unsexy, so that they could charm the world.

The scale of the unglamorous magnifies many times when it comes to Team Singapore at a major Games. When you have hundreds of athletes to look after, such as at the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, an emergency lurks in every corner.

The Chief Crisis Manager is Mr Chris Chan, secretary-general of the Singapore National Olympic Council, or SNOC. As the man in charge of the organisation running Team Singapore during major Games, it is his job to be constantly calm and ready to deal with any crisis.

Vigilance and quick wits are vital attributes for the officials of Team Singapore during major Games. They are required to solve problems daily, at times extinguishing fires before they are lit.

Prevention better than cure

For instance, officials do not wait for a security breach before acting. Once, SNOC director of projects Antony Lee received a call from an official, who alerted him to lax security in the team’s hotel on the first day.

The official had found the golf course and big lake within the grounds susceptible to intrusions from crazed fans, or worse still, terrorists. Coupled with several unguarded points, the hotel was an easy target.

“Such an open area beside the main lobby is nice for tourists, but unsafe for our athletes,” said Lee, who is in charge of major Games planning. “We anticipate problems and react in the shortest possible time – if anyone sees something suspicious, they are told to raise the alarm first.” The hotel posted additional guards to seal off the areas.

The same applies to food. Dieticians from Singapore Sport Institute (SSI) stay only in hotels located near supermarkets and pharmacies.

SSI’s sport dietitian Parimala Sivaperuman (right) getting some assistance from SSI’s chief Toh Boon Yi (left) on a supermarket run for Team Singapore

“We look at what can be bought at supermarkets and prepare emergency food if the hotel’s food causes any illness,” said SSI senior manager Tan Shufang, who plans secretariat support for major Games. “While we have a medical centre, having pharmacies nearby makes it convenient to buy supplies.”

This is on top of working with the National Sports Associations to create customised nutrition packages for athletes before Games.

Even SNOC’s official airline partner Singapore Airlines is not spared the food scrutiny. The national carrier has to send its menu for clearance by SNOC before long flights.

The food watch continues during competitions. “We will look at the hotel’s buffet and advise if anything needs to be changed,” said Tan. “The athletes already know what they should avoid so we’re just making sure they’re provided the right kind of food.”


Tender loving care from doctors

61 sports science and medicine experts will be on standby 24/7 for Team Singapore athletes at the 2019 SEA Games

Recovery is a major part of today’s sports battle as well. To ensure Team Singapore athletes are ready for their next match, swim or run as soon as possible, the medical centre set up by SSI is a bustling hub of massage beds, tubs of ice baths and a recovery bar.

Dr Frankie Tan, SSI’s head of Sport Science and Medicine Centre, recalled patching up cyclist Marcus Leong, who had crashed at the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia. Extra comfort in the form of former SSI Medical Director Cormac O Muircheartaigh arrived.

“Dr Cormac drove four hours from Jakarta to Bandung just to give Marcus some light massages and a pat on the back,” said Dr Tan. “There was a team race the next day and his presence boosted everyone’s morale.”

Constant communications between the medical team is crucial, he said, especially during the upcoming SEA Games in the Philippines. With the competition spread across three big clusters in Clark, Manila and Subic, and several other smaller areas, he has to command four teams instead of a central one to spread the workload.

“Instead of one chief doctor, I have one to guide each of the teams while I oversee everything,” added Dr Tan, who also has to juggle an extra role as the road cycling’s team physiologist.


Life-threatening situations

The 2019 SEA Games secretariat team in Subic is ready to deal with any challenges that come their way

The sheer number of athletes and the spread of a major Games, especially a SEA Games, meant that officials and administrators must think far ahead. A mere “two to three steps” ahead is not enough, noted Mr Chan.

He recounted an incident during the 2014 Incheon Asian Games when an athlete was stricken with appendicitis and had to undergo an appendectomy. “His parents were quite worried so we flew his mother over the few days that he was hospitalised,” said Chan.

He assembles a team for crisis management, which includes the chief medical officer, every Games, and is supported by the Singapore embassy in host countries.

As Mr Lee shared: “When incidents crop up, everyone needs no reminders of their roles due to our scenario planning and risk management months beforehand.”

Read the first part – The quiet ninjas behind Team Singapore – here.