Postcard from Hanoi: SEA Games really comes alive when fans are part of the action

It was a welcome sight to see stadiums and competition venues come alive with fans packing the stands, says the writer. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

HANOI - Panic grew in me when I got lost trying to find the Hanoi Sports Training and Competition Centre, where I was trying to catch weightlifting Olympic champion Hidilyn Diaz in action.

As I wandered around, a motorcyclist approached me, asking for directions to the same venue. It turned out that she was a fan from the Philippines, who was there to support her compatriot Diaz, and she offered me a ride when she learned I was headed to the same place.

I hopped on and off we went, with a few helpful locals eventually pointing us in the right direction.

This kind of warmth has been one of the highlights of my two weeks covering the SEA Games.

Before I left for Vietnam, one of the things I had been most excited about was the atmosphere and I was not disappointed.

The pandemic has starved fans of live sporting action for a long time and it was a welcome sight to see stadiums and competition venues have come alive with vocal fans packing the stands.

The atmosphere was electrifying whenever a Vietnamese athlete competes, with the home crowd's chants of Vietnam Co Len! (Come on Vietnam) ringing out at venues.

These celebrations sometimes even continued hours after games. In the wee hours of Friday (May 20) morning, locals were out and about on their motorcycles, horns tooting and flags waving as they rode down the city's streets to commemorate the football team's 1-0 victory over Malaysia in the semi-finals.

At the Aquatic Sports Palace where swimming was held, I noticed that I was not just surrounded by other journalists in the media tribune. A couple of young fans, probably no older than six, had slipped in to get a closer glimpse of the action.

I couldn't help but smile at the sight of a child's eagerness to get close to their sporting heroes.

Even as the Vietnamese were fervent in their support for their own, they were also gracious toward athletes from other countries.

The blaring of horns and beating of drums filled the Bac Giang Gymnasium even when the final day did not feature any Vietnamese badminton players.

While I was at the fencing competition, I met a local fan who asked to borrow my power bank, which led to us exchanging pleasantries.

The next day I saw her at the venue again and after Singapore won the women's fencing foil final, she offered her congratulations.

It was a small gesture, but one that I appreciated as it reminded me of sport's ability to bring people together, transcending language and cultural barriers.

Over the past 14 days, I have witnessed many exciting sporting moments but have also been reminded that sport is much richer when that experience is shared with fans.

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