MANILA – It took just two hours to wipe away a week’s worth of bad headlines as the Philippines rolled out the welcome mat for South-east Asia’s finest athletes on Saturday night (Nov 30).
The 30th SEA Games was declared open by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte at the 55,000-seat Philippine Arena 30km north of Manila in a colourful opening ceremony that showcased traditional and contemporary Filipino culture.
The build-up to the Games had been chaotic, with organisers coming under fire for a range of issues that included transportation delays, accommodation snafus and insufficient food for athletes.
With criticism in both social and traditional media, and local and foreign press highlighting the problems, it was hardly the image the government of Mr Duterte wanted projected.
Things have not been helped by the impending appearance of Typhoon Kammuri, which is forecast to make landfall on Tuesday and threatens to disrupt the event calendar.
But all these woes were forgotten on the night – at least temporarily – as the country welcomed the region’s sportsmen and women for the first time since 2005.
The ceremony had lights, music and dance and left the capacity crowd in a festive mood, with those present smiling and dancing and waving the Philippine flag enthusiastically.
The athletes’ parade was done in the style of a religious pageant, complete with beauty queens as muses of the participating countries.
Boxing world champions Manny Pacquiao and Nesthy Petecio lit the cauldron at the newly built athletics stadium and aquatics centre in New Clark City, Tarlac province.
At the opening ceremony, organising committee chairman Alan Peter Cayetano paid tribute to the athletes, saying: “In them we see passion, sacrifice, discipline, teamwork and respect – everything we need to build a better world. Today we stand tall and tell the world that in South-east Asia we are passionate... we are believers in teamwork and we firmly believe that everyone deserves our respect.”
Singapore was represented at the opening ceremony by a contingent of over 50 athletes and officials that included flag-bearer Samuel Kang, who opens his Games campaign in the men’s singles squash competition on Sunday.
The 28-year-old told The Straits Times: “It was quite nerve-racking at the start, but after five seconds it was very exciting. It’s such a great feeling when you’re leading the whole contingent out and seeing the crowd and everyone so happy to be here.
“(Being the flag-bearer) is awesome, it’s such a rare opportunity... squash might not be one of the most high-profile sports in Singapore, so I think it’s really special to have this opportunity.”
A record 56 sports will feature at these Nov 30-Dec 11 Games, with about 11,000 athletes expected to be in action in three main clusters – Manila, New Clark City and Subic Bay. Team Singapore are represented by 666 athletes.