Facepalming ourselves silly

By: Reyshimar Arguelles

What’s there to write about except for the world-class 2019 Southeast Asian Games. The event, like any other international sporting spectacle, is expected to foster goodwill and cooperation among the members of this regional community. But considering the disappointment of delegates from Thailand, Burma, and Timor-Leste on their arrival in the country, we could hardly feel any goodwill coming from our end.

Realistically, organizing such a massive event does not guarantee that everything will go according to plan. There could be issues organizers are unable to address and uncertainties they could not possibly prepare for. We could imagine the pressure that past hosts and their organizing teams had to deal with to give everyone – from athletes to spectators – the best experience.

Of course, no one likes to hold an event that does not live up to expectations, but there are situations that merit criticism, much of it questioning the efficiency of the organizers. During the  2011 SEA Games in Indonesia, for instance, a stampede occurred before the start of a football match between the host country and Malaysia. Spectators stormed the Gelora Bung Karno stadium in a frenzy, crushing two people to death.

The Indonesia SEA Games organizing committee said they had no control over unruly spectators. On hindsight, the stampede would have been avoided if there was effective crowd control. Quoted by the Strait Times, Burma’s chef de mission U Naw Tawng said that the event “lacked ushers” on top of being “confusing” and “not safe.”

Burma would later host the SEA Games in their turf in 2013 when it met a wide range of issues. The most glaring of these is the decision of the (Myanmar) SEA Games Organizing Committee to include sports where the host country had a better chance of winning gold. The downsizing of the events prompted other countries to reduce the number of delegates they were sending. But what stood out is the riot that ensued after Burma’s defeat in a football match with Indonesia.

Reuters report published by Malaysia’s The Sun, “(fans) outside set ablaze billboards and SEA Games flags, hats and even their own T-shirts. Rioters threw stones at police, who huddled behind shields and responded with water cannon.”

Four years later, Malaysia hosted the 2017 SEA Games and did the very same thing other host countries had done: manipulated the lineup of events for its own advantage. But despite threats of violence from ultra-fanatic Malaysian supporters, claims of cheating, and a case of food poisoning that downed 16 Malaysian athletes, the SEA Games was still lauded as a success.

It is events like the SEA Games that provide an opportunity for the host country to flex its nationalistic muscles and prove itself to be a significant and potent member of the Southeast Asian community. But controversies are almost always inevitable and host countries are not only measured by their capacity to hold the event itself but also their competence in responding to issues along the way.

What makes the Philippines different from other countries in terms of hosting a sporting event? Officials should admit that there has been a lack of preparation on the side of the Philippines SEA Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC), which stood in financial limbo for some time when senators questioned the fact that the PHISGOC – which at one point was accused by Duterte for having corrupt hands – was given the green light to helm the preparations for the SEA Games.

In addition, the funding amounted to P6 billion, but it was not until the arrival of the delegates that PHISGOC’s poor handiwork became evident with House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano receiving much of the panning as the head of the foundation.

Indeed, this year’s SEA Games will be one for the books on account of the lazy marketing it demonstrated, the “street food” inspired meals offered to athletes, and everything else which somehow Duterte’s critics are being blamed for.

But really, we all know whose heads will be on that P55-million cauldron in the aftermath. For now, let’s just facepalm ourselves silly.