SEA Games hosting starts on wrong foot
(Editor’s Note: We erroneously reported that the practice field that was in the photos was at the Biñan Football Stadium when in fact it was the UP Diliman Football Field, which was still under construction. We apologize for the mistake.)
MANILA, Philippines — Scrutiny may have been suspended as far as the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (Phisgoc) spending spree is concerned, but a fresh wave of problems has put the country’s hosting on backpedal mode as it faced a harsh reality check even before the biennial meet goes full blast.
Five days before the opening ceremony, the country’s hosting has already gotten off on the wrong foot, with organizers bombarded with complaints ranging from transportation, coordination, and accommodations of foreign athletes.
The backlash on social media has been so strong, it has forced apologies out of Phisgoc and Malacañang.
“As host country, we apologize for the unintentional inconvenience suffered by our athlete-guests,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a statement on Sunday.
Statements from affected parties saying they were moving on from the inconvenience may have eased the pressure on organizers, but the series of unfortunate events certainly brought to the surface questions of the country’s capability to mount what organizers hope would be the biggest and best SEA Games hosting in history—and how a rich budget was put into use.
The football teams of Myanmar, Timor-Leste, and Cambodia had complained about their hotel transfer from the airport as well as their delayed check-in at their hotels.
When the Inquirer checked on the Rizal Memorial Stadium on Saturday night, construction workers were still putting the finishing touches to the venue with just two nights before the tournament was supposed to start.
Among those that had to deal with late transfers was Myanmar coach Velizar Popov. Worse, he said, his players were crammed into a vehicle that took them from the airport to the hotel.
Cambodia, Timor-Leste, and Thailand also publicized their share of problems.
Thailand complained of having to squeeze three people into rooms that could only accommodate two and the team had to cancel its scheduled practice at UP Diliman football field due to traffic.
Cambodia resorted to sleeping on the floor at one of Century Park’s conference halls since their rooms weren’t readily available when they arrived.
“Things are not perfect but things happen,” said Cambodia head coach Felix Darmas. “We just have to wait a few hours to get picked up. It was not ideal, eight to nine hours to get into our hotel, but things happen.”
Timor-Leste’s problems started the moment its football team landed in the country. The buses that were supposed to pick the team up arrived two and a half hours late and the contingent was brought to a different hotel.
‘Not a beautiful image’
“Yesterday, we got some problems at the airport and the hotel, I hope for the future it cannot happen again,” said Timor-Leste head coach Fabiano Flora during a press conference. “All nations deserve respect. What happened yesterday was not a beautiful image.”
“This is already in the past and there’s no need to talk so much about it. As I see, obviously, most of the teams have the same problems so it’s not a big deal for me.”
Focus on game plan
Popov was quick to shrug off the incidents, saying they’d rather focus on their campaign that begins when Myanmar takes on Malaysia at 4 p.m. on Monday.
“This is not a very positive story but I prefer not to get into much details about that because if you start looking for excuses on the first day then we’ll go nowhere,” said Popov. “We came here with a task in hand and that’s our target, I’ll prefer to focus more on our performance and the game plan.”
But despite the statements of the two officials, Phisgoc took note of the debacle and issued a statement of apology.
“We sincerely apologize to our athlete guests from Timor-Leste, Myanmar, and Cambodia for the inconvenience caused to them by the confusion regarding their transportation and hotel arrangements,” Phisgoc said in a statement.
“While Phisgoc strives to ensure proper coordination of the arrival details, airport welcome and transportation provisions of all international teams to their respective assigned hotels, we acknowledge our shortcomings in this particular incident and vow to do better,” it added.
The incidents cast a bad light on the brand of hospitality the Filipinos is known for worldwide, especially with the controversy making its rounds on the web and on social media.
Myanmar-based Duwun Sports reported the national team waited for “a very long time” for its shuttle service to pick up its members at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia).
It said the team was not able to train that night due to the delays it encountered.
The vehicle provided by the organizers was “not comfortable” because the players were packed inside it. A netizen even pointed out that the minibus provided to the team was “not even better than the cars used as truck in villages in Myanmar.”
“Shame on you, Philippines! Your government didn’t allow [sic] enough budget. They are a selection of Myanmar, not school team. You should learn how to respect other country,” a Burmese local commented.
The Timor-Leste football team complained that it arrived at Naia around 5 a.m., but the vehicle that would fetch its players came more than two hours late. To add salt to injury, the driver took them to the wrong hotel.
The football team of Cambodia had it worst.
Social media were flooded with photos of some of the Cambodian team members sleeping on the floor of a hotel function room since their rooms were not yet ready.
“This is nothing less than an international embarrassment,” said a Filipino netizen on Twitter.
Defending champion Changsuek (“War Elephants”), Thailand’s national football team, said it had to cancel the supposed first day of training after its arrival was delayed by traffic in Manila.
The training was scheduled by organizers at the Biñan Football Stadium in Laguna province, about 40 kilometers south of Manila.
On its official Instagram account, Changsuek complained that it took the team a long time to get the athletes’ identification cards at the airport. From there, the team had to travel two hours to its hotel.
Phisgoc officials are already feeling the heat after being questioned on the cost of the P55-million cauldron last week.
And these events will further add to the spotlight on organizers, who had been earlier spared from further scrutiny on their spending.
Phisgoc noted that the confusion regarding the Timor-Leste team happened when some of their members were initially brought to the Century Hotel along with the rest of the team. “However, the Timor-Leste coordinator pointed out that some were actually billeted at the nearby Hotel Jen. Phisgoc was able to arrange the delegates’ shuttle to the other hotel,” they said.
“As to the Cambodian football team, their change in arrival details was relayed late to the Phisgoc Games Services Department,” the statement read. “Instead of the arrival time initially relayed to Phisgoc, the Cambodian team arrived in Naia at 4 a.m. Transportation was immediately provided, but since their hotel rooms were not yet available because the standard check-in time is 2 p.m., Phisgoc requested that the team be allowed to wait at an air-conditioned private hotel conference room with tables and chairs where the members could rest and feel comfortable while waiting for their rooms.”
The Games’ organizing committee noted that the 75 international arrivals in the past two days went without a hitch.
“But the incident regarding the football teams remain[s] a constant reminder for us as organizers to be more diligent,” said Phisgoc. “We owe it to our guests and our countrymen.”