Hosts Vietnam fear Asian Games false start
HANOI (AFP) –
With its economy in crisis, a decaying sports infrastructure and an uninspiring athletics record, it is little wonder many Vietnamese fear Hanoi is ill-prepared to host the 2019 Asian Games.
There was scant public jubilation when the communist country’s capital was chosen to host the region’s largest sporting event, making it the first Southeast Asian nation for 20 years to hold the showpiece competition.
Fears over whether Vietnam can pull off the event bounce around the city’s coffee shops and beer gardens.
“A hope is born but concerns spread through society. You cannot imagine (a host) facing more difficulties,” said Do Minh Tuan, a 52-year-old Hanoi-based academic.
The government has set an initial budget of $150 million to pay for the Games, which will be held in November 2019.
The money will come out of a $30 billion pot to develop Hanoi over the next decade and bring much-needed transport including a new sky-train, roads and bridges to ease congestion in the city, which is known for its seething mass of motorcycles.
But hosting the 18th Asian Games within budget will take some doing, according to sports journalist Nguyen Nguyen, who said it will have to be one of the most “super economical” events ever held.
Vietnam’s Olympic Committee had initially proposed a budget of around $300 million, he said, but the government slashed the sum as a result of the country’s dire economic predicament.
It is experiencing falling growth as the effects of corruption and inefficiencies in the state-run sector ripple out into the wider economy and a lingering banking crisis threatens some of the country’s key financial institutions.
The real cost of the Games, scheduled to run for 16 days, is likely to be much higher, but sports authorities have declined to provide detailed projections.
“It will be very regrettable if Vietnam does not rise to this occasion,” Hoang Vinh Giang, the secretary general of Vietnam’s Olympic Committee, told AFP.
Hanoi won the right to host the Games on November 8, beating Indonesia’s second city Surabaya after Dubai in the United Arab Emirates pulled out just before the vote.
Vietnam expects some 10,000 athletes and coaches from 45 nations and territories in Asia to flock to Vietnam for the Games, which are usually a major source of pride for the host nation.
The Games will feature events including athletics, boxing, gymnastics and swimming, alongside lesser-known sports including the martial art of wushu and the kick-volleyball game of sepak takraw.
Chinese megacity Guangzhou confirmed its status as a major Asian hub by hosting the 2010 edition, while the South Korean city of Incheon will be the venue for the 2014 competition.
But Vietnam does not have the same level of sporting infrastructure in place as its regional rivals nor the resources of China and South Korea.
Compounding the gloom is the fact that Vietnam is a sporting minnow, despite its near 90 million population, in a region scored by fierce local rivalries.
Over the last 20 years, the authoritarian regime has invested in sport to the limit of its means, but experts say there is not a single discipline at which the country truly excels.
“Training our athletes and coaches, as well as logistics planning, are the biggest problems,” said Giang, who added that the “political stability” of the country — a one-party state — was a huge asset for planning the event.
The poor quality of the host’s athletes and coaching network is heightened by the degraded state of the sporting infrastructure they must use — national stadiums are poorly maintained while public swimming pools are unhygienic and overcrowded.
Vietnam has a number of stadiums left from its hosting of the 2003 Southeast Asian Games, which is a minnow compared to the Asiad regional event, but they have not been kept up to international standards.
The government plans to use around 500 hectares on the outskirts of Hanoi to build a so-called “Center for the Asian Games” and an athletes’ village.
But across the city the same refrain is common among sports fans and experts — with the country in major economic difficulties, organising a regional sporting event amounts to over-reaching.
“Vietnam has not the money nor infrastructure nor experience to organise this event. And a seven-year deadline will prove too short,” said Bui Quang Hoang, a 58-year-old public transport engineer.
“People have economic concerns, and information about the organisation of the Asian games lacks clarity and transparency,” said Hoang.
The communist regime is good at pomp and ceremonies.
In 2010, to mark the 1,000th anniversary of Hanoi’s founding, they organised a 10-day celebration with flags and schoolchildren in costumes.
But many remain to be convinced of whether they can deliver a sporting event that is up to international standards.
Even Nguyen Hong Minh, a retired top sporting official, said Asiad-18 will be an “enormous challenge” for Vietnam, especially as its economy is currently in its worst state for decades.
“Between now and 2019 there is an awful lot to do,” he said.