Organising these events is an opportunity to promote Vietnam, but in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the region's biggest sporting event is under threat.

31st SEA Games,COVID-19 pandemic
The opening ceremony of the SEA Games 22 held in Vietnam in 2003. — VNA/VNS Photo Quang Hai

According to Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Nguyen Van Hung, preparing to host the 31st SEA Games and the 11th ASEAN Para Games is a hugely important task for the ministry. The ministry has always closely followed the guidelines of authorities and worked with ministries, departments and localities to prepare to organise the events.

Hung said the ministry would also work with the Ministry of Health to give appropriate advice to the Government and the national steering committee on the organisation of the SEA Games and Para Games in line with the pandemic situation in Vietnam and other competing countries.

According to Hoang Dao Cuong, deputy minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Hanoi and 11 neighbouring localities for the Games are still preparing for the events to be held on schedule.

“The policy of the Government and the sports industry is to still hold the two games as usual and the job of the subcommittees is to try to ensure that there is no delay. Another difficult problem is that the disease is very complicated, the spread is high. Following the meeting of the leaders of delegations taking part in the SEA Games 31 on June 15, the organising committee will then consider and report to the Government,” said Cuong.

Currently, Vietnam has not thought of delaying or cancelling the Games.

“The Games’ postponement or cancellation has not been set yet it depends on the pandemic situation. Even at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, there are still no specific guidelines for delegations. The Government's policy is to organise the 31st SEA Games and 11 Para Games in the spirit of equality, friendliness and fairness. The policy is to save, not to build new facilities," said Cuong.

However, many domestic experts and people don't want the country to host the SEA Games and Para Games in this situation.

“As a person following sports for most of life, I feel very sorry for the athletes who won't have the opportunity to compete in the 31st SEA Games and Para Games if they have to be cancelled. But I think cancelling is the right decision,” former head of the National Sports Administration's Elite Sport Department, Nguyen Hong Minh, told Thanh Niên (Young People) newspaper.

“Vietnam plans to spend VND1.7 trillion (US$71.7 million) for the Games. In the normal context of the country, it is necessary to upgrade facilities to organise the events well and successfully, leaving pride for the country. But now, this funding may become a huge burden for Vietnam. The economy is likely to be weakened when Vietnam has many things to solve.

“Vietnam has more urgent tasks. Former Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said that fighting the pandemic is like fighting an 'enemy'. When we haven’t chased away the 'enemy', it is necessary to make a courageous choice. I just take an example. Such events always require volunteers, most of which come from universities. But because of pandemic prevention, gatherings of more than 10 people are not allowed. So how can the organising board call for a large number of students to train? One more thing I worry about is that there may be countries that can't travel to Vietnam to attend the SEA Games,” Minh said.

He emphasised that agencies consulting the Government need to take courageous actions, show their attitude and help the Government make wise decisions soon.

“Organising the Games at this time is unreasonable and unpopular with the people. There should be two clear options, if the pandemic increases, stop the SEA Games, and if the pandemic calms down quickly, continue to host, but this is only a backup plan,” Minh added.

“Because of the spread of COVID-19, many sports tournaments in the world have been cancelled or postponed. In the context of the complicated pandemic in Vietnam and other ASEAN countries today, Vietnam should suspend the Games. Safety must come first,” said Nguyen Quang Vinh, a Hanoi resident.

Among the 12 localities slated to host events of the 31st SEA Games, the pandemic situation is complex in Hanoi, Bac Giang, Bac Ninh, Vinh Phuc, Ha Nam, and Hoa Binh.

31st SEA Games,COVID-19 pandemic
The gymnasium of Vinh Phuc Province. The province is assigned to host muay and golf event of the SEA Games 31. — Photo

Vietnam is still controlling the virus well, but the localities will find it difficult to start preparations for the events soon. The preparation stage is not only about facilities but also many other factors. Lockdowns and social distancing in some places hosting SEA Games events have a direct impact on the local organising committee.

In addition, allowing up to 20,000 people into the country for the two sporting events is a concern. In addition to having enough COVID-19 vaccines, Vietnam needs strong human resources and enough facilities to ensure medical safety. Does Vietnam have enough human resources to provide medical care for all the visiting delegations when doctors and medical staff have even more urgent tasks amid the pandemic?

31st SEA Games,COVID-19 pandemic
Fans at the SEA Games 22 held in Vietnam in 2003. — VNA/VNS Photo Quang Minh

Games without fans is meaningless

“Vietnam should stop the Games completely, not move them to next year. The SEA Games and Para Games are held every two years. If they move to next year, they will affect the preparation of teams for the SEA Games 32 in 2023 in Cambodia.

It isn’t fine if Vietnam chooses to play with no fans. Because one of the ultimate goals of hosting the SEA Games in our country is to create a driving force to promote sports, especially elite sports, and at the same time contribute to developing economy, society, culture and tourism. So without fans, the goal is not completed,’ said Minh.

“When the stadiums and gymnasiums are crowded, the heroic spirit of Vietnam will be widely promoted. That is when there is no pandemic. When the pandemic isn’t controlled, we can’t solve those goals,” he added.

A sports official in the south who wished to remain anonymous agreed with Minh and said that with sports events the fans are crucial. No international and domestic fans will make the SEA Games a meaningless event to some extent. If the event can't be held, Vietnam should probably consider negotiating with Cambodia so Vietnam can host the SEA Games in 2023.

The Games cannot be moved to 2022 because the whole cycle will be broken. As a rule, the SEA Game and Para Games are held in odd years. The Asian Games and the Olympics are usually held in even years. In 2022, Vietnamese athletes have many other major international events as well as the National Sports Games.

31st SEA Games,COVID-19 pandemic
Quach Cong Lich (left), Quach Thi Lan (middle) and Nguyen Thi Oanh are key athletes of Vietnamese athletics in the upcoming SEA Games 31. — Photo

The fate of the regional sports events will probably be decided on June 15 at the meeting of heads of delegations attending the SEA Games held online.

According to Tran Duc Phan, deputy director of National Sports Administration, at the conference, hosts Vietnam will inform about the progress of preparing for Games and listen to the views of other countries on the event. Then the organising board will consider making proposals suitable to the actual situation, before reporting to the National Steering Committee on hosting the 31st SEA Games.


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