I attended a conference organised by the Institute of South Asian Studies (isas) today. The general theme of the conference was about how South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka) could better engage with South East Asia (Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Laos, Timor Leste, Myanmar, Cambodia and Brunei). Since the conference was held in Singapore, the main thrust of the conversation was about improving economic ties, particularly with India -Asia's “Other” Giant.
However, another important discussion was discussed – the issue of security. South Asia has flash points – particularly the India-Pakistan rivalry. However, there was also the issue of the growing possibility of growing competition between Asia's two giants – China and India. One of the plenniary discussion involved the issue of security in the Bay of Bengal. The discussion panel had a former Vice-Admiral from the Indian Navy and an adviser to the Chinese government discussing the security issues of their particular nations in the area.
This topic of rivalries got me thinking. Why isn't Singapore offering itself as a meeting point for rivals to thrash out issues far away from the pressures of their domestic audience. We've talked about being a “hub” for nearly everything else so why can't we be a hub for “sports diplomacy?” Singapore is what you could call an ideal arena for all the great rivals of the world to play out their rivalries on the sports field.
They sports is a substitute for war. Nations play sports against each other to release national tensions that might otherwise go towards fighting wars. Look at Europe. When the British Isles were brought together into the United Kingdom the wars the various Kingdoms had were replaced by sporting rivalries – think of the England vs Scotland football match or the England vs Wales Rugby Match. Further afield the English have stopped going to war with the Germans. During the Cold War the only real fight between the Superpowers was at the Olympics when they would duke it out to see who emerged top of the medal table.
The more nations play together the less likely they are to fight wars against each other. It's a bit hard to shoot and kill someone you're meeting on the sports field.
So, creating opportunities for people to play together is a good thing and Singapore is in the unique position to doing this. We try to be friends with nearly everyone and just about everyone likes us. We're a wonderful neutral venue.
Creating sports events will provide a boost to the economy. Sports is big business in terms of television and tourist receipts. Why else to countries try so hard to host events like World Cups and Olympic Games?
Imagine this! Singapore could host an annual football match between Israel and Palestine. Like Israel, Singapore is a small non-Muslim state surrounded by larger Muslim neighbours. We have, however, a significant Muslim population. In other words, we have something in common with both sides.
The Israelis and Palestinians like football. They're passionate about it and they should be made to play together.
We could also host an annual cricket tournament between India and Pakistan. Both nations are cricket mad and instead of living out their rivalry through nuclear bombs they should live it out to cricket. Singapore provides a wonderful neutral venue. We have a significant Hindu and Muslim community for both sides to feel at home and we have the facilities to cater to their various needs.
Let's not forget about China and Taiwan. The majority of Singaporeans are descended from Fuji an Immigrants as are the Taiwanese. Our majority Chinese population speaks Mandarin, the language of both sides.
Singapore has played a deft hand with both Chinas. We have followed the official line of recognising the People's Republic as the only China but we've also kept our relationship with the Republic of China (As Taiwan is officially known) good enough for them to allow us to use their facilities for our military exercises.
So why can't we provide the two China's with a venue to live out their rivalry. Let both them meet annually for a game of something or other.
The government had a point in bringing great sporting events like F1 and the Youth Olympics to Singapore. It should be more whole hearted in its efforts to get Singapore to be an arena for the world's sporting events. Doesn't have to be on a global scale – just large enough to get two large nations focused on Singapore. The economic benefits are there. The political and security benefits are there.
So what are we waiting for? Isn't it time the bright sparks in our various ministries start working out how we can turn Singapore into the world's greatest sporting arena?