Amid a surge of COVID-19 cases in the country and in the whole region, the Vietnamese government proposes to move this year’s Southeast Asian Games to July 2022. However, eight of the 11 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian nations are against Vietnam’s request.
After successfully handling multiple waves, Vietnam was highly praised for going in fast and hard against the coronavirus. But this time, the country’s fourth and most serious wave of local infection is halting the biennial multi-sport event set to happen in Hanoi and 11 other locations from November 21 to December 2 this year.
In an online meeting on Wednesday afternoon, the Vietnam Olympic Committee released a statement confirming the said proposal to postpone the SEA GAMES 31. Moreover, representatives of the Olympic Committees in other Southeast Asian countries have confirmed the information and will report it to their governments. This matter also needs to be reviewed by the Standing Committee of the Southeast Asian Games Federation before an official decision is made.
Prior to proposing the postponement, on Sunday, the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism were asked to submit a plan to the SEA Games organization based on current conditions.
According to officials of the General Department of Sports and Physical Training, preparing for and holding this event amidst a critical outbreak poses complications — citing three challenges: expected low athletic standards with many athletes unable to train freely, difficulty in marketing the Games, and securing the safety of the over 10,000 athletes, officials and other participants.
The SEA Games Federation Office will work closely with the Organizing Committee of Vietnam in the next two weeks for a solution to be tabled to the SEA Games Federation Council for endorsement.
After the said online meeting, few representatives of the participating countries expressed their concerns and stands.
"Due to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the region, it is the wish of the Organizing Committee of Vietnam to host the 31st edition of the SEA Games in a safe and secure manner," reads the Olympic Council of Malaysia statement adding “Eight of the 11 member states objected to the postponement due to the "busy sports schedule" next year and many of the countries are already in the midst of preparations" for the Games.
According to a PhilStar Global report, the Philippines has spearheaded eight of the 11 Southeast Asian countries in pushing against the postponement of the 31st SEA Games in November.
Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Abraham Tolentino said the country along with Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Cambodia, Brunei, and Timor Leste are in agreement of holding the biennial event as scheduled. Vietnam and Myanmar voted yes to the postponement, Laos, on the other hand, abstained.
"The Vietnam NOC considered the NOC’s feedback, as well as the congested major Games calendar in 2022. The Vietnam NOC will continue discussions with their respective stakeholders on the available options," said the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) after participating in Wednesday's meeting.
However, even if all the member countries agree to delay the 31st SEA Games, the organizers will have to set the time of resumption in 2022, when many big sports events will be held.
"We do not yet know if it is possible to hold the 31st SEA Games in March or June 2022, because we are not sure at that time whether the vaccination rate in member countries will reach 60-70% of the population or not. At the end of 2022, Vietnam will organize the national sports games, while Cambodia will host the 32nd SEA Games in May 2023," said an official from the General Department of Sports and Physical Training.
SEA Games events are due to take place not just in the capital but also in some of the worst affected provinces including Bac Ninh and Bac Giang, in the country's northeast. Not to mention the SEA Games is expected to attract nearly 20,000 participants, including about 7,000 athletes, from 11 countries — making it a lot more complicated when pushed through.