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|Vietnam will promote its image via SEA Games 31, after hosting the event for the first time in 2003, Duc Thanh|
On May 5, the excitement of a major sporting event in Vietnam will reach a new level as the rehearsal for the opening ceremony of SEA Games 31 will be held, according to the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism.
The real opening ceremony of the regional biennial games will take place on May 12 at Hanoi’s My Dinh National Stadium, while the closing ceremony is set for May 23 at the Indoor Athletics Palace.
The organisers previously unveiled the slogan of the regional competitions as “For a Stronger Southeast Asia”, which is sending regional governments and people a strong message of solidarity to build a powerful ASEAN Community and further promote its role in the international arena.
The games’ official logo and mascot have also been introduced, with the logo symbolising a flying bird and a V-shaped hand and the mascot based on the Sao La – a rare mammal listed in Vietnam’s Red Book of Endangered Species.
The SEA Games this time around will be held on May 12-23 in Hanoi and 11 surrounding provinces, in which almost 10,000 competitors from all 11 member countries will compete for medals in 526 events across 40 sports.
Last summer, the SEA Games organising committee and national Olympic councils decided to halt the original preparations for the event, which was due to take place in Hanoi and surrounding areas from November 21 to December 2 last year. The accompanying ASEAN Para Games were to be hosted on December 17-23.
Ten of the 11 member countries voted to postpone the event until 2022 during the federation’s teleconference meeting, in response to the complex pandemic restrictions in the country and obstacles to ensuring safety.
The main worry for organisers, other than the risk of infection, was that too many conditions would be imposed on the competition in regards to entering and exiting the country and particular cities and provinces, as well as enforcing quarantine and distancing regulations. Athletes from some member nations had not been fully vaccinated at the time, and some issues in that regard still remain.
However, it was revealed last week that spectators watching competitions at the event will not be required to take COVID-19 tests before entering stadiums, according to Ministry of Health guidelines.
Guests at the event at the deputy ministerial level and above, as well as heads and deputy heads of sports delegations, do not need to show negative test results when entering Vietnam or take tests on arrival. They also will not need to undergo quarantine on arrival.
Meanwhile, sports officials, referees, and athletes must have certified negative PCR test results taken within 72 hours or rapid antigen testing within 24 hours before entering the country, but are not required to quarantine. Coaches and athletes will need to take rapid tests 24 hours before each competition. Athletes will travel in closed routes between their accommodation, training, and competition venues.
The stadium hosting the opening and closing ceremonies will be disinfected before the events, while medical teams are on standby to give emergency aid and tests to those suspected of being infected.
Fourteen hospitals and 16 medical centres will provide healthcare and pandemic prevention and control services during the games, while healthcare services will also be provided at 11 hotels and 15 competition venues.
At a working session with Hanoi Department of Health in March, event organisers asked the city to design an organisation and management map to ensure effective coordination among agencies and plans for medical service provision. It was requested that medical teams are also set up for members of the organising board, athletes, and spectators.
Deputy director of the Vietnam Food Administration, Nguyen Hung Long, said that Hanoi should also make careful food inspections at competition venues and hotels hosting athletes and surrounding areas while making more detailed plans to ensure food safety during the event.
Hanoi is not the only location for the SEA Games, and other towns and cities have been working hard to welcome new guests.
The northern port city of Haiphong has been finalising preparations as the host city of rowing and canoe events. Accommodation facilities are under repair and all sub-projects are almost ready to welcome competitors and other visitors.
At the same time, the city has been busy strongly recovering its pandemic-hit tourism industry, one of its economic pillars together with high-tech industry, ports, and logistics.
Chairman of Do Son People’s Committee Tran Khac Kien noted last month that the locality plans to host a large-scale travel festival from April 29 to May 2, featuring a pedestrian street, boat races, a classic car exhibition and rally, a music festival, and a golf tournament.
Bac Giang province is also ready for badminton matches at the provincial gymnasium. Competitions will be held in Bac Giang city on May 16-22.
Provincial leaders said that Bac Giang has invested over $435,000 in the improvement of the facility and the acquisition of new equipment, as well as promoting communication activities and placing statues, banners, and posters in the streets.
In the northern province of Ninh Binh, Pham Tuan Anh, director of the locality’s Sports Training and Competition Centre, said at the beginning of April that about 80 per cent of upgrade work to Ninh Binh Gymnasium had been completed. The venue will host karate competitions for the SEA Games.
Other than a new cycling track in Hoa Binh province and a tennis complex at Hanoi’s Sports Training and Competition Centre, no other new venue was being constructed for the events.
A more modern event
Elsewhere, the return of esports to such an event is demonstrating its growing appeal in the region and beyond. After a successful debut at the 2018 Asian Games, esports became a full medal sport at SEA Games 30 in the Philippines in 2019 and will continue to be a medal event at the Hanoi edition.
Esports is among the 40 sports being competed at the SEA Games as a medal sport, which will be held at the Vietnam National Convention Centre. Organisers of SEA Games 31 initially removed it from the schedule due to budget constraints caused by the pandemic, but with the growing appeal for esports in Asia and across the globe, the Asian Electronic Sports Federation (AESF) led the bid for its inclusion. After months of lobbying, the AESF was pleased to announce that esports was officially reinstated as a medal sport at the event.
General budget issues have dogged the event due to the delays in holding the games and cross-border restrictions. As reported last year, the total budget allocated by the Vietnamese government for the SEA Games was estimated to be VND1.6 trillion ($69.3 million). Over $42 million would be used for organising costs while the remainder would be allocated for upgrades and repairs to facilities.
However, on April 2, Deputy Prime Minister Le Minh Khai approved an additional budget of almost $20 million for the event. The money is taken from the national budget for sports and physical training for 2022.
Four ministries and central agencies will be provided around $16.5 million, while Hanoi and 11 other provinces will receive the remainder. The DPM immediately requested that the units use, pay, and settle the budget economically and transparently.
Updated revenues are projected to be over $11 million, of which $3 million would come from sponsors.
Organisers acknowledged that holding the games in logistically-challenging times will be costly as Vietnam has to account for additional costs with very limited return from sponsorships and ticket sales – a similar problem the Tokyo Olympics suffered from.
In normal times, the SEA Games can bring in bumper revenues for various economic segments. The last edition in the Philippines in 2019 was projected to have brought in over $18 million for the hospitality industry alone, according to the country’s Department of Tourism. Some 35 hotels and resorts were exclusively used by athletes, sports officials, and other guests related to the competition at an average rate of $133 per night, according to the Hotel Sales and Marketing Association. The estimated revenues did not include cash brought in for food or transportation.