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SEA Games: Not no, just not now

The Philippine government has officially withdrawn its interest in hosting the 30th Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) in 2019. The Philippine Sports Commission sent a letter to the Philippine Olympic Committee Friday, informing them of the executive branch’s decision. This means that, regardless of what stage the bidding process is in, the Philippines will no longer participate, for now. The PSC cited rehabilitation efforts in Mindanao and the on-going conflict in Marawi as reasons for the withdrawal.

Historically, countries have backed out of hosting international sporting events before, and occasions have arisen that prevented even the staging of such events. World War II caused the cancellation of the 1940 and 1944 Olympics (and if you watch Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece “Dunkirk”, you’ll get a good sense of why.) Brunei backed out of hosting the SEA Games because of a lack of facilities and short preparation time. Many countries have not shown interest in bidding for the Olympic Games because it has proven to cause financial distress for some, and the venues become white elephants after the event, gigantic decaying reminders of how temporary glory can be.

This writer was a firsthand witness and almost a victim to how terrorism can intrude on a sports celebration. As I’ve written before, 1996, fellow broadcaster Ron De Los Reyes and I were walking through Centennial Park midway through the Atlanta Olympics when a home-made pipe bomb exploded less than a hundred feet away from us. I still remember the concussive force of the blast, which reflexively caused us to almost drop to the ground. After that international incident, security at these kinds of events became very serious matters, if they weren’t already. There were two casualties, one struck by shrapnel in the neck, the other succumbing to a heart attack. I was happy to have just come out of that in one piece. And this was years removed from 9/11.

The government has committed large amounts (some reports say up to P 20 billion) to restore Marawi, and this is but proper. The money has to come from somewhere. Besides, Davao City was one of the proposed venues for the SEA Games, and is only a few hours’ drive away. For years, Davaoeños have been dreaming of having a world-class sports facility. They will have to wait a few years longer, at least.

Does this decision necessarily mean a victory for terrorism? No, it simply means we have other matters to take care of first. It means we take care of our own, restore order to our own house first. Some countries cannot afford to host the SEA Games. The Philippines can. For today, we choose not to. Other priorities come first. They have to.

Committing to hosting such a large event also implies a multi-sectoral effort, it is a grand opportunity to show the best face of a country. There will be hundreds of thousands of tourists for the three weeks of the games, there will be thousands of athletes, tens of thousands of media practitioners. There will be politicians, sports officials, sponsors, investors, spectators, the curious. It will provide the impetus for a surge in awareness and business. Conferences will be scheduled around the games. Vacationers will plan trips before, during and after. Athletes will stay behind to unwind. There will also be a lot of risk involved.

Source: http://www.philstar.com/sports/2017/07/24/1721004/sea-games-not-no-just-not-now

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