By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
FROM its humble beginnings in the late 1950s when it was still known as the Southeast Asian Peninsula Games, the Southeast Asian Games has gone on to become a much-awaited sporting event in this side of the world.
Designed to help promote cooperation, understanding, and solidarity among member-countries in the region through sports, the Games have done exactly that. And how.
Now the biennial multi-sport event is set to make a return in the country in four years’ time after in “not so normal” circumstances the Philippines wound up with hosting duties for 2019.
Originally set to take place in Brunei, the 2019 SEA Games were offered to other countries after Brunei declined because of “organizational reasons.”
“SEA Games 2019 is not the normal procedure of hosting in the sense that we are not supposed to host until 2020-something. But Brunei gave it up and it was given to us. We found it good as we don’t have to go through the usual process as host country. They trust us that we can host,” Philippine Sports Commission Chairman Ricardo R. Garcia said in an interview.
“Hosting is usually offered to the National Olympic Committee, or, in our case, the Philippine Olympic Committee, for them to accept or not. The POC accepted,” he added.
“We agreed to host but formalities have yet to be ironed out,” Joey Romasanta, POC first vice-president, said in a separate interview.
“Formalities” include the SEA Games Federation issuing a formal invitation to the Philippines which the country must accept.
Upon acceptance, the government must issue a guarantee that its president agrees to the project and will issue an executive order directing all government agencies concerned to provide the necessary support to the hosting of the SEA Games.
“Everything’s unofficial yet. But in principle we have accepted it and it will be staged here,” Mr. Romasanta said.
As per SEA Games “protocol,” hosting duties are rotated among the member countries, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Brunei, Cambodia, and Timor-Leste.
Each country is assigned a year to host but may choose to do so or not, which is the case with the 2019 Games.
The 2017 SEA Games will be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Local sports officials said hosting entails a lot of work and preparation. The Philippines would know, having hosted the games three times before — 1981, 1991, and 2005.
“First to be done in the process of hosting is to identify the different committees. We only hosted [last] in 2005 and some of the people who led at the time are still around so they know what needs to be done. So I think for this hosting we are more experienced,” said Mr. Garcia.
While 2019 is still a long way off, Mr. Garcia said local officials will try to finish identifying the committees by the end of the year.
Then the identification of sports and events that will be held here follows.
“It takes a lot analysis and staff work to identify the sports that will be held here. Not only the sports but also the events,” Mr. Romasanta said.
“The host country is given much elbow room and leeway to decide as far as the sports are concerned,” he added.
Mr. Garcia said the sports are subject to discussion with priority, more often that not, given to Olympic sports and then traditional sports (e.g. bowling, wushu, and billiards).
Indigenous sports, whose practice is limited to certain countries only, are instead presented as demonstration sports, he added. “Venues available also affect the selection.”
The sports officials we interviewed said budget has always been a “sticky” part of the preparation process. But for Messrs. Romasanta and Garcia, the country does not have to spend much for 2019.
“In the case of the Philippines, building new facilities is already out of the question since we already have venues in existence, which we only have to upgrade, and some new ones like the Mall of Asia Arena and Philippine Arena. The budget basically will cover expenses for transportation, accommodation, volunteers, and technical officials,” Mr. Romasanta said.
“For the budget, when we last hosted in 2005 we spent less than P300 million. For 2019 we may have to spend P500 million,” Mr. Garcia, for his part, said, adding the competing athletes are subsidized by their respective countries.
Hosting can be a collaboration between the government and the private sector, Mr. Garcia said.
“Sponsors come into play to help fund the staging. National government also does its part but if not, local governments also come in.”
Mr. Garcia described hosting as an investment, since the local athletes can use the upgraded venues, facilities, and equipment for their training.
Hosting spotlights the country, Mr. Romasanta said.
“It showcases the country’s pride. That we can do it. It’s something that can unify a country. Opens up the country to be recognized,” he said.
He added, “Economic-wise it will be beneficial, particularly in tourism. It will not only be tourists that will be coming here but also the entourage of the different athletes.”
“Hosting gives one international exposure through the media that will come here. It will boost the image of the country,” Mr. Garcia said.
The two also shared that hosting boosts the morale of local athletes who will be competing, in the process giving us better chances of finishing at the top of the heap overall.
“It increases one’s chances of moving up,” Mr. Romasanta, citing Singapore, which hosted this year’s edition of the Games in June and finished second overall from sixth in 2013 in Myanmar.
This is supported by Queenie Evangelista, officer-in-charge at the Philsports complex in Pasig City where some of the country’s athletes are housed while in training.
“The local crowd is a big factor in the performance of the athletes. They boost the morale of the athletes. Dumodoble ang galing ng mga atleta (The athletes are inspired more to do their best),” she said.
“It gives us a chance to earn more medals. It’s hard to be number one. But at least we have a good shot,” Ms. Evangelista said.
“Being watched by our countrymen is truly a confidence booster,” Ewon Arayi of the Philippine national women’s basketball team said.
“Of course there is also pressure that goes with it but it still motivates us to focus more and drives us to go all out, knowing the entire country is backing us,” she added.
And it seems the relation between hosting and success is supported by the country’s track record.
A quick look at the performance of the country in the Games we hosted would show an average runner-up finish each time, including first overall in 2005.
In 1981, the Philippines finished third behind Indonesia and Thailand while in 1991 we lost the top spot to Indonesia by a lone gold medal on the final day of competition.
Compare this to the 4.4 average placing we have had in the years we did not host since 1979, punctuated by a seventh place finish in 2013.
In Singapore this year, the Philippines ended sixth overall with 29 gold, 36 silver, and 66 bronze medals.
As news of the country agreeing in principle to host the 2019 SEA Games floated, some expressed reservations, doubting if the country has what it takes to host at this point given what they perceive as a myriad of limitations.
But local sports officials are confident that the Philippines is up to it.
“There will always be skepticism. That we cannot do this and that. Sometimes we are better appreciated elsewhere and outside of the Philippines. Why don’t they trust our abilities to host? We have done this before,” Mr. Romasanta said.
“We should be proud to host. Our neighbors trust us to do a good job in hosting which is a validation for us of sorts,” he added.
“In hosting there will always be negative people. They will have something to say each time but that should not stop us from doing so,” said Mr. Garcia, who also emphasized the need to have the support of all concerned to ensure hosting success.
He enjoined the cooperation of the various government agencies, including law enforcement, and also expressed confidence that President Benigno S.C. Aquino III will endorse the 2019 hosting.
“We have to take on the challenges that hosting entails. We should not settle. We must be forward-thinking,” Mr. Garcia said.