To mourn or celebrate? Kinabalu tragedy versus SEA Games medals

By S M Ong

Friday was the opening ceremony of the SEA Games in Singapore. On the same day, the Sabah earthquake happened.

This resulted in a bipolar Straits Times front page the next day with the headline "Sabah quake: 8 S'pore kids, 2 teachers missing" and a giant picture of fireworks below it.

So was ST telling us to be concerned about the missing Singaporeans or happy about the SEA Games?

The two emotions sort of cancelled each other out.

Of course, by now, we know that eight Singaporeans have died in the quake, six of them schoolchildren from Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS). Two people are still missing. (UPDATE: Their bodies have been found.) It's a national tragedy.

But the Games must go on.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong declared Monday a Day of National Remembrance for those killed in the quake and that "one minute of silence will be observed at the beginning of the day at all SEA Games venues", thus conflating the two major news events of the day.

This gave ST the opportunity to make up for the awkward earlier front page with a great front page photo yesterday of players observing a minute of silence before the Singapore-Cambodia football match and spectators holding up signs that said "Prayers for TKPS" in the background.

In a way, that minute of silence gives us permission to enjoy the rest of the SEA Games even as we mourn the quake victims.

And by dedicating their wins to the quake victims and their families, the athletes also help alleviate some of the guilt.

But that doesn't make it any less weird to see on my Facebook news feed celebratory stories about Singapore's medal tally in between heartbreaking stories of those who perished on Mount Kinabalu.

It got me wondering, what if Mr Lee Kuan Yew had died just before the SEA Games? Would the Games be cancelled?

I know a number of I think LKY's death was also the last time flags were flown at half-mast until the Kinabalu tragedy.

But to compare Mr Lee to the eight quake victims would be inappropriate. All life is precious. More so than medals.

Not that I'm advocating that the SEA Games should be cancelled or postponed. It would be like trying to stop a speeding non-MRT train. I mean, the organisers have already produced an album of Plus, you know, SG50. The people like their BreadTalk and circuses.

So my sincere condolences to the families and friends of quake victims.

And also... uh... go, Team Singapore?

This article was first published on the blog of Ong Su Mann (S M Ong) on 10 June 2015. It is reproduced with his consent.


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