Vietnam to delay year-end SEA Games due to Covid-19

Singapore's Shanti Pereira (third from right) competing in the women's 200m final at the Philippines SEA Games, on Dec 7, 2019.
Singapore's Shanti Pereira (third from right) competing in the women's 200m final at the Philippines SEA Games, on Dec 7, 2019.PHOTO: SPORT SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE - The year-end SEA Games in Hanoi, Vietnam look set to be postponed amid a surge of Covid-19 cases in the region.

This comes on the back of a sharp rise in coronavirus cases from new variants in parts of South-east Asia in recent weeks that has raised questions about the viability of the Nov 21-Dec 2 Hanoi Games.

The Straits Times understands that the Vietnam Olympic Committee had written to the region's National Olympic Committees (NOCs) last week and cited the rising cases in the country, although a clear decision on a postponement was not stated in the circular. A meeting between the 11 NOCs will take place on Wednesday (June 9).

A Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) spokesman told ST on Monday: "The Vietnam NOC shared an update with the NOCs with regards to the latest developments in Vietnam. The SEA Games Federation will be meeting this week to discuss the available options for the 31st SEA Games."

Vietnam, which had been relatively successful in dealing with the virus last year, is battling its worst outbreak. More than 5,600 cases have been reported in 39 out of 63 provinces and cities since late April, reported Bloomberg. Major cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have put social-distancing measures in place.

Various media outlets in the region have also reported that the SEA Games are at risk of not taking place as scheduled.

On Sunday, news website Vietnam Net reported that the country's government had asked its sports ministry to submit a plan on the organisation of the SEA Games based on challenges posed by the pandemic, before a decision on whether the event could be held would be taken.

It quoted a leader of the General Department of Sports as saying that "it is very difficult to come up with solutions to prevent the spread of Covid with tens of thousands of people".

The report cited three challenges: Expected low athletic standards with many athletes unable to train freely, difficulty in marketing the Games, and securing the safety of the over 10,000 athletes, officials and other participants.

The rest of the region, including Singapore, has yet to bring the virus under control too.

Reuters said that Indonesia has reported about 1.86 million cases and over 51,000 deaths, with Monday's 6,993 infections the highest daily increase since March 4.

Thailand is in the grip of its third and deadliest wave. It has so far seen 179,886 total infections and 1,269 fatalities, said Reuters.

In Malaysia, infections are on a downward trend, but the number of daily infections remains high. Total cases breached 600,000 in recent days, with more than 3,000 people succumbing to the virus since the pandemic began last year.

Singapore too, has experienced a recent spike in cases, leading to a fresh round of restrictions from May 16 to June 13.

Malaysia's The Vibes portal reported on Monday that the biennial Games, which will feature 40 sports, could be postponed to March 2022.

A delay of the biennial SEA Games, however, would not be straightforward, given member nations are also involved in several major events already scheduled for 2022, namely the Winter Olympics in Beijing (February), Commonwealth Games in Birmingham (July) and Asian Games in Hangzhou, China (September).

Vietnam last hosted the SEA Games in 2003. Last month, regional media including ESPN had reported that it had implemented a "no vaccine, no participation" policy for the 2021 Games.

The Games, which first started in 1959, have only ever been disrupted once - in 1963, when political turmoil in Cambodia saw it unable to stage the biennial event.