Monday, December 15, 2003

A hard act to follow

Bull Run Column @ Vietnam Sea Games 2003

AS the 22nd SEA Games in Vietnam came to an end with the torch flickering
out at My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi at 9.15pm on Saturday, the
Philippines - who will host the next edition in November 2005 - were the
first to admit that it would be a hard act to follow.
As protocol dictates, it is expected of the successors to make such a
statement but this time around, the admission was genuine, as every other
competing nation will agree.
Vietnam are among the original members of the the South-East Asian
Peninsular Games Federation (now SEAGF), set up in June 1959, but they
were only hosting the Games for the first time, becoming the eighth
country to have done the job.
Only Laos, Cambodia and Timor-Leste, this year's debut nation, have yet
to do so.
Laos have indicated they wanted to host the 2009 Games.
But what an impression Vietnam have made by organising the events in Ho
Chi Minh City and Hanoi, with the latter being the main venue.
Indeed, Vietnam have passed with flying colours, and in the process,
even teaching the more experienced hosts a thing or two.
If there were any shortcomings, Vietnam should not be faulted at all,
certainly not due to the lack of efforts in ensuring everything goes
Of course, Datuk Sieh Kok Chi, Olympic Council of Malaysia secretary,
was the advisor to the hosts, but all his experience would have come to
nought if the Vietnamese had not worked hard to make the Games a huge
Yes, Vietnam emerged overall medal champions for the first time, with
158 golds, 97 silvers and 91 bronzes.
But even before one starts pointing (if it has not been done already),
at Vietnam for having manipulated their status as hosts by winning most of
their medals through sports "alien" to others, let us take a look at
ourselves first.
Malaysia emerged overall medal champions at the last Games in Kuala
Lumpur, with a record haul of 111 golds, 75 silvers and 85 bronzes from a
total of 392 medals at stake.
So did the Malaysians also use underhand tactics to achieve their feat?
For starters, the SEAGF should be taken to task for allowing what has
Having agreed to Vietnam's proposals for the various sports, they have
no reasons to complain now.
Besides, it is always the case that the hosts normally reap the medal
harvest, as seen in the previous 21 editions, where 11 hosts have emerged
medal champions, and in others, finished overall best.
So if this is a trend, what is there to complain?
As for biased judging, it would indeed be grossly unfair to accuse
Vietnam of winning medals "with assistance", especially in combat or
subjective sports.
Two main factors have to be looked at.
Firstly, everyone will agree that the Vietnamese played a huge role in
motivating their athletes to be at their best in every event.
The SEA Games were given a new meaning in terms of support from fans for
every sport contested, as all the venues were filled not only by locals,
but also specially-arranged groups of Vietnamese supporting other
And these "fans" did not just make up the numbers or wave the respective
national flags, but they also "cheered" against the Vietnamese athletes!
Eric R. Buhain, the Philippines Sports Commission chairman who was a
former international swimmer who has travelled extensively during his
sporting days, said he has not seen anything like what he has witnessed in
Vietnam, in terms of the locals' passion.
"What I have experienced in Vietnam is unique. They have taught us what
patriotism is all about. and their passion has taught us how sports can
bring the whole nation together for one cause," said Buhain.
"I wish the Philippines will be able to demonstrate a similar fervour
and patriotism, and we will be trying very hard to do so."
Secondly, the Vietnamese athletes worked hard for their success.
Nguyen Hong Minh, the head of delegation of the Vietnamese contingent,
said their athletes were not only prepared for the Games, but also for the
future of the sports they were competing in.
Of the 750 athletes who competed, a majority of them were in training
for two years, regularly sent overseas for exposure and training, coached
by foreign expertise and competed in many pre-Games events in Vietnam.
"We not only focused on sports where we were medal potential, but also
paid equal attention to developing other sports with long-term goals in
It has not been all rosy for Vietnam either. They have had their fair
share of disappointments where favourites had fallen in the wake of keen
competition, but this they have learnt to accept as part and parcel of the
As the Philippines begin to host their third edition, they will, even
with their experience, indeed be hard-pressed to match the Vietnamese.
But the Philippines have not wasted any time in getting ready, as
attested in Vietnam.
And the Philippines could well add a new dimension with their move to
marry sports and tourism - which is fast being coming a global trend in
the travel industry for many countries.
The Philippines Department of Tourism were in Vietnam in full force with
top officials from the Philippines Olympics Committee and Philippine
Sports Commission for this purpose.
The Philippines even have a theme song, Wow Philippines, to promote the
Games and their country.

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