Sport Shines Spotlight on Asian Cities by Populous’ Paul Henry

October 24, 2016

By Populous’ Richard Breslin and Paul Henry

Hosting a major sports event has the power to put a city on the map.

While state-of-the-art venues and well-organised competition are must-haves for success, the world’s most memorable events have offered something else too.

These hosts have made their event about more than sport. They’ve given visitors a true taste of what makes their city unique, showcasing food, history and culture.

They’ve involved members of the local community to a point where they truly feel an event is their own, and thoughtfully planned their infrastructure so that residents are accommodated and provided for during, and long after, an event.  Here’s Paul Henry who has just returned from SE Asia.

Having just visited Singapore, and joined my Populous colleagues at its Formula One race, I was struck by just how significant major sporting events can be in defining a city’s identity.

The Singapore event, Formula One’s only night street race, is thrilling.

Motorsport’s elite speed deafeningly through the vibrant, crowded city, the lights of the bay flickering beyond, as the dynamic skyline towers above.

For one weekend a year the city could be declared the Monte Carlo of the East.

Yet when you add in the excitement of the race’s timeslot, concerts that go well into the night, the offering of delicious local food, and a multitude of shopping options in the days before and after, this experience becomes truly unique.


It’s a great example of a city cleverly capitalising on a moment of global attention and is event tourism at its best.

Elsewhere in Asia, the desire to host major sports events is such that cities are developing large-scale permanent infrastructure in preparation for the opportunity.

The Hong Kong Government is investing in a major sports park, which boasts a 50,000 seat stadium among its many features.

What’s also smart is the way in which the development will highlight what’s special about Hong Kong itself, starting with a proposed stadium site, at Kai Tak, that provides distinctive city and harbour views.

The goal is to attract more global sports events to Hong Kong, and provide greater opportunity for the region’s elite athletes to compete on home ground.

The Government has a further ambition: to provide extensive open space, general health resources, and facilities for local sports participants of all ages and abilities.

When achieved, these offerings will undoubtedly serve to enhance community satisfaction and the city’s broader reputation.

Many lesser known cities in Asia, perhaps with enhanced reputation as a driver, are also looking to host regular and major sports events.

The fact that most need to invest in significant infrastructure to do so is good news for locals as this type of development, even in smaller cities, increasingly considers community involvement, benefit and resources.


In Changwon City, near Busan in South Korea, a stadium for relatively new but successful baseball team the NC Dinos, is currently under construction.

In designing the 22,000 seat venue, Populous, with the Haeahn Consortium, put a firm focus on cultural relevance and family enjoyment.

Extensive parkland and rooftop gardens feature in a venue expected to impress globally and, equally importantly, to become the social and recreational hub of the region.

The first stage of another of our major design projects, China’s Zhuhai Hengqin International Tennis Centre, was completed last year.

Hosting the WTA Elite Trophy saw the previously lesser-known city of Zhuhai gain the attention of tennis fans from across the globe.

The transformation of the site from disused ponds into a sculpturally spectacular, culturally significant, green recreation space has proven a major win for locals too.

Other Southeast Asian countries who plan to host events are seeking to ensure investment spreads beyond the boundary of their proposed sports parks.


Staging a major event often provides the impetus for more general regeneration projects and opportunity to upgrade housing, transport and other basic infrastructure.

This type of improvement is no doubt one of Indonesia’s priorities as it prepares for the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang.

Commitment to greater open space in the city, and expanded airport, monorail and hospital resources has been reported.

In neighbouring Malaysia, Populous is designing several facilities for Kuala Lumpur Sports City, the first phase of which will be finished in time for the 2017 Southeast Asian Games.

Working with the Malaysian Resources Corporation Bhd, responsible for the RM1.6 billion project, we’ve aimed to modernise some of the city’s existing stadium and aquatic facilities, designing a highly advanced sports hub for elite athletes.

New boulevards and pedestrian links to public transport being developed will make spectator attendance and travel easy.

While it could focus solely on a successful Games, the Malaysian Government has a vision that is much bigger than one event, or sport alone.

It’s a vision of bringing life back into a central, but largely unoccupied part of the city, and transforming it into a fully integrated lifestyle precinct that will live and breathe seven days a week.

Along with showcasing the unique aspects of the country’s culture and history to the world next year, this development will have an ongoing, positive impact on the day-to-day life of Kuala Lumpur residents.

There are, of course, a range of further benefits that come from hosting a major sports event, as evidenced in countries and cities that have done so previously.

Many former hosts of games and events have seen increases in both short and long-term employment and tourism, and enjoyed resulting financial benefits.

Others have met goals of improving their reputation and relationships with other nations or organisations, or of promoting greater in-country harmony.


The London Olympics is probably the best example of a city showcasing its history to the world through clever design and strategy; for example, the design to host the beach volley ball in Horse Guards Parade, using the backdrop of Whitehall.

Populous was responsible for designing all of the overlay works for both the temporary and permanent venues of the Games, as well as the design of the main stadium itself.

Of course, there are challenges for those who choose to seek these benefits via hosting major events.

Financial and political demands, and global scrutiny are not least among them.

But there is a commonality amongst the cities that have taken on these challenges and succeeded.

The hosts of successful major sports events have all shared a commitment to reflecting the unique culture and features of the place, which, in turn, has garnered the all-important support of each city’s local people.

The involvement and enthusiasm of community is the ultimate key to a great event.

It’s what ensures a city is remembered by athletes and spectators long after the closing ceremony, and is home to a legacy to be enjoyed by locals and visitors, for years to come.



Richard Breslin is a Senior Principal at Populous and a Director of the Asian/Pacific office headquartered in Brisbane. Richard also sits on the worldwide strategic Board of Populous and is responsible for all of the firm’s projects in New Zealand and Australia.

Richard is currently leading the Populous team on the Darling Harbour Live project in Sydney in a HASSELL+ Populous joint venture. The $1B project includes the design of a convention centre, exhibition centre and theatre. He was Director in charge of the redevelopment of Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne.

In 1997, Richard began work with the team on the design of Stadium Australia (now ANZ Stadium), the main venue for the Sydney 2000 Olympics before moving to London where he worked on Wembley Stadium, and the design of the Soccer City Stadium in South Africa, for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. He was also project leader for Populous’ successful master plan for the London 2012 Olympic Park.

In 2007, Richard headed home and led the teams on Eden Park redevelopment in Auckland and Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin in preparation for the 2011 Rugby World Cup


17 Paul HPaul is an internationallyrecognised expert in the design andmaster planning of stadia, racecourses, arenaand the planning of Olympic Games. Paulis a Senior Principal and sits on the global board of, Populous, as both an owner and Managing Director ofthe Asia Pacific region from the Brisbane base,

Duringhis extensive career, Paulhas led the development of world renowned sports and entertainmentbuildings including the design of the ICC Sydney at Darling Harbour Live, KLSports City, Philippine Arena, SydneyOlympic Stadium, Suncorp stadium in Brisbane, Nanjing Sports Park in China, and the racecoursesfor the Hong Kong Jockey Club as well as many othermajor stadia in Australia. Many of Paul’s stadiumdesigns have become a centerpiece for a city’s development. Governments throughout Asia invite, Paulto lead discussions on the procurement and design of sports facilities to best suit the needs of a city and its community, and he speaks at high level conferences throughoutthe region. In 2010 Paul was made an Export Hero of Australia, the firstarchitect to receive the award.