A sombre tribute to the late Lee Kuan Yew jostled for attention with giant ladybirds and an inflatable, leaping cow as Singapore’s Southeast Asian (SEA) Games opened at a wide-ranging ceremony on Friday.

The homage to Singapore’s founding leader, who died in March, gave way to unusual scenes as the cow was steered over a huge moon in a sequence dedicated to children’s imagination.

Earlier outsized ladybirds were wheeled around a sold-out National Stadium and Singapore’s flag was projected onto the domed roof as the Games opened in a blaze of colour.

Games mascot Nila, dangling from a parachute, entered on a zipwire with fireworks sparkling from his heels, before athletes from 11 nations filed through the venue.

Excerpts from Lee’s pronouncements on health and fitness were played to the 40,000 crowd before the Games were formally opened by President Tony Tan.

The multi-sport event is being held after Lee’s death plunged the small, wealthy nation into mourning, and coincides with Singapore’s 50th anniversary of independence.

“Today we also pay tribute to Singapore’s founding prime minister, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew,” youth minister Lawrence Wong told the crowd at the newly redeveloped stadium.

“Mr. Lee played a key part in developing sport in Singapore. He officially opened our former National Stadium in 1973 when Singapore first hosted the SEA Games.”


Some 402 gold medals in 36 sports are on offer at the event, which melds Olympic disciplines with lesser-known, regional pursuits and concludes on June 16.

A moment of racial disharmony caused consternation among the audience when presenter Sharon Au asked a small, ethnic Indian girl in the crowd to speak, and then mocked her accent.

A speech by swimmer Joseph Schooling, who is going for nine golds, was played before he appeared in a shiny gold jacket with other well-known Singaporean sportsmen and women.

Lee’s son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is mulling calling general elections, burnished his image when he was shown taking jovial selfies with Singapore’s netball team.

Finally the torch arrived on a dragon boat and was relayed to the stadium, where Singapore footballlegend Fandi Ahmad and his son, rising star Irfan, jointly lit the cauldron.

Some SEA Games have been marked by graft and ineptitude but Singapore is pulling out all the stops with an event which has looked polished and meticulously planned so far.

Much of the action will take place at the new, billion-US-dollar Sports Hub complex, whose centrepiece is the hi-tech National Stadium. – Agence France-Presse 


Photo credit: SINGSOC/ Action Images via Reuters

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