The Sea Games façade

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Playing a nationalistic theme song. Construction of bigger venues. Designing uniforms bearing the nation’s red, blue, white and yellow colors.

These things are expected as we begin the countdown for the South East Asian Games in the country this November.

However, we shouldn’t be surprised if this becomes a countdown to failure.

The problem lies not with our athletes’ capabilities but on the government’s lack of interest and support for the sports community as it hosts this prestigious regional competition.

The premature execution of the SEA Games hosting could bring more complications rather than benefits, and betray our lack of readiness for this year’s event.

Though the Philippines organized fairly successful SEA Games competitions in 1981, 1991 and 2005, there is no guarantee of success this year.

The country bid to host the 30th SEA Games after Brunei declined the offer in 2015 due to financial and logistical issues.

After this bid, the government withdrew support for the competition in 2017, saying that the funds were to be used for the rehabilitation of war-torn Marawi.

The government later changed its mind and decided to sponsor the games. It unveiled plans to organize the most ambitious SEA Games yet, with 56 sports events compared with the previous 31.

News of a P2.5-billion budget cut for the games arose early this year as the Senate approved only P5 billion of the original P7.5-billion proposal of the Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee.

The government is spending P607 billion in its rush to build the New Clark City – the first smart and green city in Tarlac, which is also the proposed location for the athletes’ village and the SEA Games closing ceremony venue.

According to the Inquirer, this future city flattened hectares of greenery into concrete, redirected natural flow of rivers and displaced the Hungey tribe which is known to be the oldest Aeta group in the province.

Philippine Sports Commission chairman Butch Ramirez vowed that these new venues would be used not only for the 2019 SEA Games but also for Philippine sports in the long haul.
The optimism is questionable, because government-owned facilities like the Ninoy Aquino Stadium, Rizal Memorial Sports Complex and Philippine Sports Arena have not undergone any repairs following the 2005 Sea Games.

Due to sudden renovations of these venues, pre-season tournaments and small local competitions usually held in these places have been postponed.

Local tournament schedules have also been affected, including this year’s 82nd season of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP).

Ateneo de Manila University’s athletics office director Manuel Fernandez mentioned during the UAAP opening press conference that the season’s cramped schedule would pose a great challenge to the athletes.

Ateneo laid out plans to compress the first semester games in two months for the sake of student-athletes who would be representing the country in the international stint, and to avoid conflicting with the SEA Games in November and December.

In addition, facilities in UAAP universities such as the Blue Eagle Gym, Far Eastern University-Diliman and University of the Philippines football fields will be used as practice venues for the Southeast Asian tourney.

With less than a hundred days until the kick off, further preparations for the inter-country competition were still underway and would likely be finished at the last minute.

The government should not have chosen to cram the country’s upgrade for the games and should have focused on strengthening local athletes and sports communities.

It’s like watching a racecar speeding toward a brick wall. The only thing left for us to do is to desperately hope that the driver would steer toward another direction and prevent a crash.

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