Counting SEA Games’ risks and benefits

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By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
Senior Reporter

LOGISTICAL glitches and allegations of corruption threaten to mar the Philippines’ hosting of the biennial Southeast Asian Games this year, which the country is doing for the fourth time in history.

Unlike previous hostings in 1981, 1991 and 2005, this year’s 30th SEA Games has generated much buzz, going beyond talk of medal projections.

Organizers see the Nov. 30-Dec. 11 games — touted as the “biggest and best” — as an opportunity to showcase the Philippines while reaping the potential windfall.

About 9,000 athletes and officials from 11 nations in the region will participate in 530 events in 56 sports, besides 9,000 volunteers.

The 2019 SEA Games, which was supposed to be hosted by Brunei until it backed out for “organizational reasons,” has a budget of at least P7.5 billion.

Critics have questioned the propriety of the budget and the way it has been used. Opposition Senator Franklin M. Drilon argued the sport event could have been hosted at a lower cost, citing the SEA Games “cauldron” tower that cost P55 million to build. He said it was unacceptable to spend so much on a structure that would likely be used just once.

Mr. Drilon, who wants a congressional probe for possible misuse of funds, has also asked why the government had to spend P9.5 billion to build the New Clark City sports facilities instead of just upgrading the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex in Manila.

He also questioned the necessity of having the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee supervise the event when agencies such as the Philippine Sports Commission and Philippine Olympic Committee could have done the job.

Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano, who heads the committee, has described the “cauldron” as a “work of art” designed to showcase Filipino ingenuity, while newly built sports facilities, including a stadium and an aquatic center, were worth the price tag.

In the days leading to the start of the games, some people sought a ceasefire to allow organizers to focus on their hosting duties.

But logistics woes — including the transportation and hotel accommodation of athletes, media accreditation and incomplete facilities — came up this week.

A stop to the bickering was supposed to prevent the athletes, particularly the Philippine team, from getting distracted.

But the question remains — Is there a need for the Philippines to host events such as the SEA Games?

Ruben Carlo O. Asuncion, chief economist at UnionBank of the Philippines, Inc., said hosting the games is worth the effort and the cost. “It is a good thing because we get to fulfill our obligations as part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations,” he said in an interview. “We also get to show the nature of Filipinos as gracious hosts.”

The SEA Games, he said, is an investment that would bear results. “Disregarding the appropriate accountability measures at this point, I still see this as a great investment in national sports development, sports tourism and consequently putting the New Clark City project on the map,” Mr. Asuncion said.

The property sector and sports tourism should benefit from the hosting, he added.

The main benefit — and risk — hosting such an event is the country’s reputation, said Robert Dan J. Roces, chief economist at Security Bank Corp., citing the potential waste of unused buildings after the games.

“But we do not see this happening to our new venues because the government — logistical snags aside — strove to develop world-class facilities,” Mr. Roces said.

“We do not see much risk that the country will fall into a Brazil-type slump where hosting the Olympics actually did more harm than good to their economy,” he added.

Margielyn Didal, an Asian Games skateboard gold medalist, said hosting the SEA Games would allow Filipino athletes to gauge “where we are in our game.”

Skateboarding will debut in the games this year. The country barely has facilities for skateboarders such as skate parks “but through the SEA Games, facilities were built in Tagaytay and hopefully it’s the start of more parks to be built,” she added.

Still, UnionBank’s Mr. Asuncion said organizers should answer allegations against them.

“Transparency can help allay fears and concerns,” he said.

“If there was nothing to hide, the organizers should continue to engage and be open to scrutiny and further accountability.”