|Vietnam last held the SEA Games in 2003, with some events taking place inside My Dinh Stadium. Photo: Le Toan |
At a meeting last Thursday with the SEA Games organising committee and National Olympic Councils (NOCs), it was expected that a ruling would be made concerning Hanoi’s previous request to postpone hosting duties for the biennial event, as well as the accompanying ASEAN Para Games, after the majority of members had denied the request earlier in the month.
However, instead of finally receiving a go-ahead either way, organisers again could not reach a consensus, with a final decision being slated for July 8 instead.
After the latest meeting was adjourned, the Malaysian NOC posted on Twitter, “The organising committee of the SEA Games 2021 updated members on their preparation for the upcoming games. While efforts are being made to host the event as scheduled, members agreed to the Vietnamese organising committee’s proposal for two more weeks before a definitive decision is taken.”
At a previous conference to discuss the situation on June 9, Vietnamese authorities explained their reasons for the request to not go ahead with the November and December dates, and postpone instead to the summer of 2022, but in a vote only Myanmar agreed, while the other members voted against and Laos abstained.
Vietnam was given two weeks to come up with a new proposal. One such potential proposal was postponing hosting duties until the 2027 edition, which is due to be held in Brunei. Brunei declined to host the events in 2015 and sources said the nation may continue in that vein moving forward, giving Vietnam a chance to host at a more suitable time.
Philippine Olympic Committee president Abraham Tolentino, who attended the online meeting on June 9 with other members of the SEA Games council, said he refused the proposal as preparations are already in full swing.
“It’s unfair to the athletes who have already sacrificed their time and effort in training for the SEA Games,” Tolentino said. “Athletes are also preparing for the Asian Games, Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, and the Winter Olympics next year. So it would be very difficult for the SEA Games to be postponed.”
Commissioner of the Philippine Sports Commission, Ramon Fernandez, said the health and safety of the athletes are of paramount importance. “As of now, we’re just carrying on with the training schedule,” he said. “We’re continuing with our plans because the official start of training is on July 1. If it gets postponed, it will be hard for sure for the athletes because they have been looking forward to this, but we have to understand.”
The Paralympic Council of Malaysia also voiced its concerns on postponing the events. Council president Datuk Seri Megat D Shahriman Zaharudin said the games should be held so that athletes are not affected as they prepare for a gruelling schedule.
“Malaysia is ready to fully cooperate because cancellation will affect the focus of our athletes as they prepare for next year’s major events, among them the Birmingham Commonwealth Games next July and the Hangzhou Asian Games next September,” Zaharudin explained.
Indonesia was another member to insist the competition should go ahead as planned. Secretary of the Youth and Sports Ministry Gatot S. Dewa Broto cited numerous other events taking place next year, including the Indoor Martial Arts Games in Bangkok and the Islamic Solidarity Games in Konya, Turkey, meaning that Vietnam would have to come up with a different solution than simply pushing the games back one year.
“If the SEA Games is organised next year, it will break the concentration of our athletes who are currently training based on the assumption that the event will commence this December,” he said before the final decision was made, as reported by news agency Xinhuanet.
Broto pointed out that postponing the event also means that the Indonesian government would need an additional budget for its athletes, which he perceived as not feasible at this point. “The ministry doesn’t have a large budget compared to other ministries, so we must optimise and handle the budget we currently possess efficiently,” he added. “It won’t be easy to just ask the finance ministry to give us a fund injection boost since the national budget is tightly allocated to all the ministries depending on the government’s priorities.”
Earlier this month Hanoi began to loosen restrictions on social distancing and closure of particular establishments such as restaurants and barber shops, but concerns still swirl over the concerning outbreak in Ho Chi Minh City, with local authorities racing to ensure infections don’t sweep into other provinces.
There have also been huge efforts to suppress outbreaks in localities outside Hanoi such as Bac Giang and Bac Ninh provinces. Those localities, along with nine others, were due to host the SEA Games along with the capital.
As many as 40 sports with over 500 categories were expected to take place in Hanoi and other aforementioned localities such as Ninh Binh and Haiphong, with the 31st edition of the SEA Games itself being held on November 21-December 2, and the 11th
ASEAN Para Games taking place following on December 17-23.
But sources involved in organisation expressed worry 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 have been fully vaccinated, while others have not.
As recently as this month, the host country was doubling down on getting ready for the competition despite the pandemic forcing budget cuts on the entire operation.
The total budget allocated by the Vietnamese government for the SEA Games was estimated to be VND1.6 trillion ($69.3 million). Around $42.3 million would be used for organising costs while the remainder would be allocated for upgrades and repairs to facilities managed by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
Other than a new cycling track in the northern province of Hoa Binh and a tennis complex at Hanoi’s Sports Training and Competition Centre, no other venue was being constructed for the events.
Organisation revenues were expected to be VND226.6 billion ($9.7 million), with $5.8 million coming from the delegates’ accommodation fees and $2.8 million coming from broadcast rights.
On June 21, Cambodia’s Ministry of Information announced that it would send a delegation to Vietnam to draw its experience in organising the event, with the Cambodian due to host the 2023 edition.
Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith made the announcement at a farewell visit from outgoing Vietnamese Ambassador to Cambodia Vu Quang Minh.
Despite the majority wanting the event to go ahead, organisers understand holding the games in these logistically-challenging times will be costly for the Vietnamese as the country also has to account for additional costs with limited return from sponsorships and ticket sales – a similar problem being suffered currently with the Tokyo Olympics.
“Holding a major sports event this year entails additional costs on protocols,” one insider told the Philippines’ Daily Tribune. “But more than that, you have to concern yourself with the common good and not to put your citizens and guests in harm’s way. At the end of the day, it’s the national government of Vietnam which will decide.”
In normal times, the SEA Games can bring in bumper revenues for various economic segments. The last edition, held 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 over $133 per night, according to the Hotel Sales and Marketing Association. The estimated revenues did not include cash brought in for either food or transportation.