Like many previous hosts of multi-sports events, the Philippines is now facing a barrage of criticism with the organisation of the SEA Games. The blame game has started even before the official opening of the biennial event on Saturday.
The KL SEA Games two years ago, despite claims of being the best organised, had its fair share of issues. One major difference was that the Malaysian media were curtailed from reporting any negative issues because of “national interest”, albeit editors being given subtle reminders.
The media in the Philippines has no qualms on highlighting such issues, and these were gleefully picked up by the foreign media, adding to their public relations woes.
Most the problems faced by multi-sports hosts can be avoided with right vision, proper planning and with the correct people being appointed to take on the tasks.
For the SEA Games, the first steps must be taken by the SEA Games Federation (SEAGF). For far too long the SEAGF has failed to assert better control of its own blue riband event.
Compromise has been the go-word in deciding how the Games moves forward. The number of sports being contested at the Games has gone out of proportion.
So much so that from just 12 sports competed at the inaugural Games in Bangkok in 1959, there would be 56 sports being competed in Manila this year. Worse still when obscure or niche sports like Underwater Hockey, Fin Swimming, Shuttlecock, Roller Sports, Para Gliding are being included at the Games.
In contrast the South Asia Games slated to start on Dec 1, will see only 26 sports being competed, with only the Indian sport of Kho-Kho being the only non-Olympic/Asian Games sports included. Koho Kho, however, is a popular game in the region.
The Tokyo Olympics will feature only 33 sports while the Hangzhou Asian Games will see a total of 40 sports being competed.
Horse trading is done with the SEA fraternity to include each countries favoured sports, with scant consideration to its usefulness to the Games. The Manila SEA Games will see 11 new sports – Duathlon, Esports, Beach Handball, Ju-jitsu, Kickboxing, Kurash, Modern Pentathlon, Obstacle Racing, Sambo, Skateboarding and Surfing – makings its debut.
According to the SEAGF Charter and Rules, a host nation must stage a minimum of 22 core sports that must include athletics and aquatics. They must also accommodate a minimum of 14 other sports from non core sports. And participation from only four countries is needed for any sport to be competed.
The SEAGF must seriously re-look at the number of events that should be contested at the biennial event that is increasingly being a financial burden to the hosts. Manila will spend almost RM1.6 billion, with most of the sum coming from loan taken by the government to cover the cost of constructing and renovating venues.
Without funding from the government, the SEA Games can never be hosted by any member countries. The KL Games was hosted with RM450 million grant from the Malaysian government. Only RM25million in cash and a further RM75 in kind was raised through sponsorship. This was not inclusive of the close to RM1 billion spend on upgrading existing venues.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC), apart from sporting considerations, emphasizes on marketing and sponsorship factors in deciding inclusion of new sports and it is about time the SEAGF also adopts the same policy.
Over reliance on government grants to host the Games is a problem that the SEAGF must address with a stronger marketing and sponsorship plan. After 60 years it comes as a surprise that the SEA Games does not even generate any money from broadcasting rights.
And it is obvious that no broadcaster would be excited in telecasting some of the obscure sports being included at the Games at the fancy of host nations.
Sports including football and badminton should be capitalised to monetize the Games. With a number of sports also able to feature top international stars, there are additional opportunities to market the Games.
Unlike the IOC, the SEAGF is just a grouping of convenience with no proper or full time administrative unit to help elevate the status of the Games. The SEAGF leaves the entire burden on the hosts, be it financial, marketing, sponsorship or even public relations.
The Games is also an avenue for many to make money. Lucrative contracts are handed out for infrastructure, logistics, IT, equipment etc. Bloated budgets are being a norm with contracts being handed out without proper or thorough versification. After all, with the government funding and guaranteeing the full cost, going into a deficit is never a problem.
Hosting the Games every two years also does not look as exciting as it used too, especially with the number of existing and new multi sports events. That is one of the reasons why some regional multi sports events including East Asian Games and the West Asian Games were either scrapped or rebranded.
Looking at the current trends and problems faced by hosts, holding the SEA Games every four years would be a much better option, but with a reduced number of sports.
Appointing the right personnel to manage the Games is another aspect that the respective member countries must pay more attention too. With the government forking out the bulk of the budget, many a times the key appointees are based of political expediency.
And sometimes those appointed prioritise “window dressing” more than the athlete-centric issues.
More emphasis is given to the opening and closing ceremonies rather than athletes facilities. More care is given to guests invitations and needs instead of media arrangements and facilities. More care is given to VIP parking instead of general transportation. More detail is given to what each political leader wants to drink instead of the menu given to the athletes.
Athletes are the the most important part of the SEA Games, The success of the Games is dependent on the performances of the athletes. To ensure great results, the conditions must be optimal. Everything from the accommodations to the competition venues to the food served to the ease of transportation is essential to ensure the athletes perform.
Without understanding the needs of the athletes it is impossible to host a successful Games.