Vietnam SEA Games postponed to 2022 over Covid-19 concerns

Performers from Vietnam participate in the closing ceremony of the SEA Games in Capas, the Philippines, on Dec 11, 2019.
Performers from Vietnam participate in the closing ceremony of the SEA Games in Capas, the Philippines, on Dec 11, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE – The Nov 21-Dec 2 South-east Asian Games in Vietnam have been postponed to next year, drawing mixed reactions from the Singapore sports fraternity. 

After the SEA Games Federation working committee met yesterday, the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) issued a statement saying “it was decided that the SEA Games will not be held this year”.

It added: “The Vietnam NOC will explore new dates for consideration. The SNOC will adjust the selection policy accordingly to reflect the new dates once the details are confirmed”.

This confirms earlier speculation that the Hanoi Games would be rescheduled as the Vietnam Olympic Committee (VOC) had flagged concerns over the viability of staging it this year with the region battling a surge in Covid-19 cases in recent months

The 40-sport meet was set to feature over 10,000 athletes, coaches and other participants.

Vietnam, which last hosted the Games in 2003, has set aside a budget of US$69 million (S$91.3 million) to stage the competition. 

While it was reported to have introduced a “no vaccine, no participation” policy for the event, the number of cases in the country has increased by almost 10 times since March to more than 23,000.

Vietnamese news publication Phap Luat Online reported last month that the VOC had sent a letter to its regional counterparts proposing the postponement of this year’s edition to July next year “due to the complicated situation of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

But ESPN reported that a majority of the national Olympic committees, including Singapore’s, had “voted against” the proposal to move the event to July.

The date is problematic for countries like Singapore and Malaysia as the higher-profile Commonwealth Games in Birmingham are set for July 28-Aug 8, and next year’s sporting calendar is also packed with other major multi-sport events including the Winter Olympics in Beijing (February) and Asian Games in Hangzhou (September).

Varin Tansuphasiri, Games Council member and deputy secretary of the Thai Olympic Committee told AFP yesterday that Vietnam is proposing April or May next year as an alternative date. 

Singapore table tennis player Clarence Chew, who won a men’s singles silver in 2019, was disappointed to hear about the postponement but said that “the safety of the athletes, officials, spectators should be number one priority”. 

He added: “Next year, we will face a challenging year as we not only have to prepare for the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games but also the SEA Games. But I believe, as athletes, we are able to cope with the challenges and create positive outcomes.”

Singapore swimming’s national training centre head coach Gary Tan shared that their training regimen will be tweaked to adapt to the delay, and there will be discussions with the SNOC on the qualifying time frames to ensure they have the best team for all three Games.

He said: “Periodisation has to be spot on due to the fact we have multiple Games coming up. Picking the team will also be crucial, where we need to discuss internally to understand what are our key meets, who are our key personnel based off qualification, and decide how we can peak at the respective meets.”

However, national bowler New Hui Fen, who won three gold medals at the 2019 SEA Games in the Philippines, called the news a “blessing in disguise” as this year’s edition would have clashed with the Nov 6-14 World Championships.

She said: “With the current Covid-19 situation, there have been many changes in our daily lives. Adapting to changes, in a way, stretched my comfort zones wider. Now that the SEA Games is postponed, there is a possibility I can compete in both the World Championships and SEA Games. 

“Hopefully the SEA Games can be held safely in 2022 and be close to pre-Covid days where spectators are allowed.”