David Owen ©ITG

Remember the last time the eyes of the world were glued on Singapore?

It was in July 2005 and the reason was - sport.

London, Madrid, Moscow, New York and Paris - what a list! - were going head to head in a race for the 2012 Olympics that UK Prime Minister Tony Blair judged so important that he stayed in the Far East as long as possible before jetting back just in time to host the G8 Summit in Gleneagles.

(When the result came through, Summit or no Summit, Blair was reported to have punched the air, done a jig and embraced his startled chief of staff.)

Thirteen years on and yesterday's Trump-Kim handshake has largely eclipsed today's award of another sports mega-event - the 2026 FIFA World Cup - and this in a week that has also seen the winter sports hub of Switzerland thumb its nose at a chance to host the 2026 Winter Olympics.

With the benefit of hindsight, today's list of priorities for statecraft, with sport well down the pecking order, is probably both healthier and more normal than the situation pertaining 13 years ago: I mean you would worry - wouldn't you? - about a world where the setting for a few dozen ball games in eight years' time evinced more attention than our prospects of avoiding nuclear calamity for another few years.

That 2005 Session came at exactly the moment when we were most inclined to imagine that a tide of liberal democracy would sweep irreversibly across the globe, powered by a new-fangled e-economy that was well on the way to making the traditional economic cycle obsolete.

The shakiness of this assumption was dealt a brutal blow in the same week as London's victory by the 7/7 bombings before being swept away more or less completely by the 2007-2008 financial crisis and subsequent Western economic stagnation.

Sport, though - pumped up by a quarter-century-long bubble that has seen once unimaginable riches channelled its way - is still struggling to adjust to this, er, new norm.

Seemingly desperate to demonstrate its broader relevance, and hence their own importance, its leaders sometimes stray into areas you feel would be better left to specialist NGOs and politicians.

Singapore last captured the world's attention when the result of the 2012 Olympic race was announced ©Getty Images
Singapore last captured the world's attention when the result of the 2012 Olympic race was announced ©Getty Images

And they still tend to respond with an air of wounded petulance whenever a new group of citizens says thanks but no thanks to one of their events.

The straying would be less of an issue, it might even sometimes be admirable, if sport’s own house were in better order.

But until little things like doping and corruption and full financial transparency in every sport are sorted, you could be forgiven for thinking that sports leaders ought to stick to their knitting.

You might, indeed, feel justified in hoping that the more enlightened among them would discern a connection between current shortcomings and the evident disinclination of so many groups of taxpayers, especially in Western Europe, to go into partnership with them.

No doubt one day, the economic and political landscape in the West will once again look as benign as it did in the mid-noughties; I am sure that we all hope that it will.

But looking out from the English Home Counties, that day does not look remotely imminent.

For the time being then, I think the best advice one could offer the Olympic Movement is, rather like modern athletes, to focus hard on the things they can - or ought to be able to - control (like rethinking the Winter Olympics) and not on those they can't (like peace on the Korean peninsula).

One small example: towards the end of 2015, I took a look at how many Summer Olympic International Sports Federations (IFs) published their audited financial accounts each year.

The answer then was about half of them; while I have not yet embarked on a methodical check, two-and-a-half years on, I strongly suspect that the answer is little changed.

There are two things most obviously that the Olympic Movement can control: the Summer Olympics and the Winter Olympics.

For all the moans and groans, the Summer Olympics are still basically fine: they remain, absent all hype, a genuinely global, genuinely show-stopping phenomenon which offers the host nation every chance of broadcasting a positive image of itself to a rapt worldwide audience.

Even if the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had not decided that discretion was the better part of valour and pushed ahead with its double deal, the 2024 contest would still have culminated with the Ali versus Frazier of Candidate City clashes, Paris against Los Angeles.

And there would, I am sure, have been candidates for 2028, even if the US might still, increasingly awkwardly, be awaiting the award of its first Summer Games since Atlanta.

The Winter Games, on the other hand, as I have been arguing for years, need serious attention.

The Winter Olympics need serious attention ©Getty Images
The Winter Olympics need serious attention ©Getty Images

They are not truly global, for obvious reasons, and unlike their Summer counterpart, they have to battle head-on for attention with the juggernaut of club football, itself populated - and this is a relatively new phenomenon - by genuinely global brands, both clubs and athletes.

The popularity boost in China that Beijing 2022 will assuredly provide (though for how long?) might keep the show on the road in current form for a time.

But the IOC, as far as I can see, has not tried nearly hard enough to press real change on the sclerotic world of winter sports, where, even after Anders Besseberg’s departure from the International Biathlon Union after 25 years, three of seven Winter Olympic IF Presidents have been in situ since the latter years of the 20th century.

It would be interesting to see what happened if the IOC unbundled Winter and Summer broadcasting and marketing packages, selling each event separately to broadcasters and multinationals, even in snow and ice sport-loving territories.

It might not make sense from an operational efficiency standpoint, but I suspect it would give a clearer idea of the value of the Winter Games to its commercial partners.

If the Movement will not contemplate transferring some indoor summer sports or disciplines to the Winter Games, hence stimulating interest in parts of the world left, well, cold by snow and ice sports - and I can see why that would stir up a hornet’s nest - perhaps it should try dispersing the event across a number of countries. 

There might now be an argument for assigning the various disciplines to the best existing facility, almost wherever it happens to be in the world, and relying on now ubiquitous TV and other media to administer the Olympic glue that sets the event apart and differentiates it from single-sport world championships.

Yes, you might jeopardise some cherished Olympic traditions, but capital costs would be next to nothing and the traditional West European winter sports resorts would be back in the Olympic game with a vengeance.

It is worth noting in this context that recent austerity-era reforms already accept that venues are likely to be spaced further apart than in the recent past, often significantly so.

I can still remember it like it was yesterday, but in some respects Singapore 2005 feels like it was so, so long ago.