Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Singapore Cricket Club Distinguished Visitor's Dinner on 5 Dec 2019, where he was conferred the title of "Distinguished Visitor".
Mr Sher Baljit Singh, President of the Singapore Cricket Club
Fellow SCC members
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am delighted to join all of you tonight, and also very honoured to be conferred the title of “Distinguished Visitor”. I have long been an honorary member of SCC. I knew that being a Distinguished Visitor is SCC’s highest honour, and that SCC had also conferred it on Mr Lee Kuan Yew in 1970, and Mr Goh Chok Tong in 2007. I deeply appreciate your gesture, and I am very happy to be in such distinguished company.
However, I was not sure what exactly were the duties of a Distinguished Visitor. In Britain, there is an old tradition of universities conferring this title of Visitor, and I learned from your President that that was where SCC’s title originated. For example, in Oxford University, they had “Visitors”, who had the power to adjudicate disputes. So I made some discreet enquiries, and was relieved to confirm that I would not be expected to do the same for SCC members!
I also learned from the President this evening that when Mr Lee became a “Distinguished Visitor”, he had also made enquiries as to what his duties entailed. I looked up the short speech that Mr Lee made when he joined you for dinner in 1970. After nearly 50 years, the speech had aged well. One paragraph near the end particularly resonated with me.
Mr Lee said, “I hope that this open green space and this building will continue to symbolise that capacity to change, to adapt, to adjust, and to keep all that was gracious and good of the past. That is not to say that all of the past was wonderful. But there were quite a number of things in the past which were good, including this open green space. There are quite a few things in the present which are not so bad, and so worth preserving.”
I thought this was a particularly apt thought for us this evening, especially because this is the Bicentennial Year, when we are commemorating the two centuries since Stamford Raffles landed. We are remembering the ups and downs, the triumphs and tragedies, the troubles we have experienced together, and the progress we have made.
Singapore has endured and thrived because of our capacity to continually transform and modernise ourselves. As Mr Lee said, “To change, to adapt, to adjust”. Each generation of Singaporeans has built on what their predecessors had achieved, preserving what is “gracious and good”, and building upon it, so that the next generation can reach greater heights, and reach for greater heights for themselves and for Singapore.
Singapore and SCC’s Bicentennial story
Singapore’s destiny was decisively altered when Stamford Raffles arrived at the mouth of the Singapore River, just a stone’s throw away from here, 200 years ago. The British brought with them their institutions – a Westminster style parliamentary system, an independent judiciary, and a free port, to name a few.
They also brought their way of life, their customs, hobbies and sporting traditions. One of these was playing cricket – a sport that they took very seriously. The first recorded game of cricket on the Padang took place in 1837. Fifteen years later, in 1852, a meeting was held to discuss formally setting up a cricket club, and so the SCC was born.
Thus, SCC has existed for 167 years, almost as long as the British has been here. That is a long history for a club, although it is not such an ancient history for a country. From your vantage point here at the Padang, in the centre of the city, you have had a front row seat witnessing the growth and transformation of modern Singapore, and especially Singapore’s journey to becoming a nation.
When Singapore fell to the Japanese in February 1942, your members would have watched Japanese tanks and troops parading down St Andrew’s Road, with fear and foreboding. In September 1945, when the Japanese finally surrendered, you witnessed the victory parade that Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten held on the Padang. In June 1959, when Singapore attained self-government, a huge rally took place on the Padang to celebrate the historic moment, and our first elected government was sworn in at the City Hall. I am sure your members must be watching. I am not sure all of them was certain what was to come. We went through ups and downs, and we prevailed.
In August 1966, at our first National Day Parade, you watched the parade contingents marching past your front door, having gone past the city hall steps, proudly representing our fledgling nation. Since then, we have held the NDP at the Padang on many occasions, including the SG50 NDP in 2015, and our Bicentennial Parade in August this year.
Each time, the Padang is used for several months for preparations and rehearsals, rather than for cricket or other sports. But your members, even though they cannot play games, can watch the action up close, including the aerial flypast, the mobile columns and the fireworks displays, every day leading up to the actual Parade. On the day of the Parade, whether at the Padang or somewhere else, I understand you have a proper party so you can enjoy the show.
The SCC has been here, watching history unfold, and witnessing the complete transformation of the city over the years. The Padang has remained where it is. So has the SCC. Other key historic buildings are still there, like the Supreme Court, City Hall, Victoria Concert Hall, and Fullerton General Post Office, but enhanced and repurposed. One can still recognise them in old photographs. They are a physical link to our past, and remind us of the key moments of our history that they witnessed. Long may it remain so.
But around us, much else has changed. The view from your verandah has altered. dramatically. The Central Business District has expanded and been reinvented, many times over. The Civic District has been pedestrianised, connected to a clean and vibrant Singapore River. A new Downtown is taking shape around Marina Bay, with Gardens by the Bay and the Marina Bay Sands, becoming already famous landmarks.
In the same way, SCC itself has preserved some of your more treasured traditions, while moving with the times. You carry on the tradition of sporting excellence, as all the cups around us attest.
Naturally, you still play cricket on the Padang, but now also many other sports, including football, hockey, tennis, lawn bowls and rugby. You have expanded your mission to promote a love of sports not just among your members, but all Singaporeans. The tournaments that you organise throughout the year are very popular. For example, the SCC International Rugby Sevens is one of the region’s oldest and most prestigious sporting events. It draws top teams from around the globe, and a wide following of rugby fans local and foreign.
Your sports teams have nurtured generations of Singaporean talent across different sports. Just now, I met a few of your athletes, past and present – Amos Boon, former national footballer and now captain of your team; Rosemary Tessensohn, former national lawn bowls player, and gold medallist at the 1999 SEA Games; and Shermeen Lim, current national lawn bowls player. Shermeen was a silver medallist at the 2017 Asian Lawn Bowls Championships. She just came back this afternoon from the Philippines, having won a gold at the SEA Games yesterday. Especially significant since she won the gold after the typhoon while the lawn was still soggy, and also especially significant because Rosemary was the last Singaporean to win a gold medal for lawn bowls. Congratulations to both!
Amos, Rosemary and Shermeen all began training and honing their skills at SCC, and they greatly appreciate the support that SCC gave them, especially in their early years.
Fittingly, you are continuing your long tradition of raising funds for good causes, especially to enable everyone to share in the joy of sports, including the underprivileged and underserved, vulnerable communities and persons with disabilities. I am happy that this evening’s dinner is not just a convivial gathering, but also for the purpose of fund raising.
I am very happy that together, you have raised $300,000 for SportCares. You had asked me to suggest a suitable charity, and I thought SportCares would be a good fit for your history and mission. I would like to thank all SCC members from the bottom of my heart for your generosity and kindness. I encourage you to continue keeping your doors open and embracing this spirit of inclusion in all that you do.
Finally, I wish everyone a joyous holiday season, and many more years of success and camaraderie. I intend to make good use of my honorary membership and visitorship. Other than the Padang, I hear that the Oval and Verandah restaurant also serve delicious cuisine.
Thank you very much!
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