Story and pictures by Leslie Tan
The Padang, Thursday, February 21, 2008 – On this night, Thursday, February 21, 2008, at 7 p.m., a day that will live long in the memory of the 9,000 people who were at the Padang and the hundreds of thousands more watching at home on television, the world witnessed an improbable fact, that tiny little Singapore had more friends than Moscow, the largest city in Europe and the capital of Russia.
On this night, Singapore, an island of 4.5 million inhabitants with no natural resources and hinterland, living on its wits for 43 years, had more friends than Moscow, a city of antiquity in existence since the 12th century.
Make no mistake, from the initial list of eleven candidate cities, Singapore made the final cut to two based on technical merit. It was a technically sound bid put together by serious, intelligent people in various government ministries and agencies that impressed the International Olympic Council (IOC) panel of experts enough to score us 7.4 to 7.9. Moscow was placed first, with a score of 7.5 to 8.4.
Cynics will say that we already knew we got the vote and that’s why we planned to have a party at the Padang. But we have it on good account from sources that nobody knew the result, not even our Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who made a last-minute and unexpected appearance that took everyone by surprise. It was a gamble that the PM was bravely willing to take and his reaction said it all – pure, unadulterated elation.
This was a vote that was a secret right up to the second the envelope was opened and read out by Jacques Rogge, the IOC President in Lausanne, Switzerland. What he said after the name of Singapore passed his lips, no one heard or cared. We had heard enough.
So what did the final vote come down to? Why did 53 IOC delegates choose us, nine more than the 44 who chose Moscow? Why did we win in the end?
On this night, we, Singapore, found our place in the world a little brighter and cosier, because we just had a few more friends to help us along.
Thank you, Olympic friends.