Is the SEA Games 2019 doomed to fail?

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GERALDINE GO-BERNARDO

Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela once wrote, “The Olympics has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.” But more than just “to unite,” countries that have ever bid or hosted the Olympics understand that sporting events can be leveraged to fulfill various strategic goals for their country.

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A case in point is the 2008 Beijing Olympics – that huge coming-out party that to this day continues to reap political and economic gains for China many years after the event. The $41-billion price tag to host the games was due in part to fast-tracking infrastructure projects, which China would have expended at some future time anyway. With six months to go before the 2018 Pyeong Chang Winter Olympics, Korea lost no time in promoting the event in airports, thoroughfares and even in some of their public toilets. Aside from the railway system built traversing through the country’s premier winter sports venues, Korea will introduce for the first time the 5G internet speed technology, which is the result of the consortium between various European and Korean telcos—a true display of technological might.

The groundwork for the Southeast Asian Games 2019 proved to be promising as it sought to follow a similar trajectory, albeit more modest in scale. The local government of Davao was beginning to earmark for the building and rehabilitation of venues and lodging facilities, to name a few. But all that may have come to a grinding halt when Malacañang gave the “no-funds” dictum even after committing to host the event just the year prior.
During my heyday as an athlete, it seemed like the Philippine-hosted SEA Games 2005 took less than a year to organize (for whatever reason). But thanks to the pooling of efforts by the government, local government units, the private sector, and the public at large, SEA Games 2005 is still our most successful tourney to date.

Why then the rush to pull out from an event that is two years away? There is certainly more than meets the eye than what’s being stated. Is it really financial capability or managerial capability that is in question here? If the SEA Games 2005 event was any gauge, admittedly, it was done in haste to expedite a commitment. There were no known metrics, benchmarks or any introspective post-evaluation with which to measure the impact of the event to the country overall. In addition are allegations of non-liquidation of funds by the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) for the last SEA Games amounting to at least $500,000. And as with every co-terminus leadership, any plans for long-term sport development usually ran the risk of not seeing the light of day come the next administration.

In the aftermath of the Philippine Sports Commission’s (PSC) unilateral announcement to forego the hosting of the SEA Games 2019, it is apparent that the POC is not giving up just yet. But it begs the question whether or not we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes and missed opportunities, given the same set of characters at the helm of the country’s sport leadership.

Perhaps the sport manager in me believes that SEA Games 2019 should still be a “go.” Because knowing all that we know now should be the impetus to make the next SEA Games a better deal for all of us, especially in galvanizing (and uniting!) our nation for all the right reasons that host countries take advantage of these sporting events.

Any prudent manager realizes that for every crisis, there is opportunity. In fact, the SEA Games can be a highly significant platform, in conjunction with other necessary modes of intervention, to bolster the rehabilitation in Mindanao during the post-Marawi conflict scenario. We have not even begun to explore the revenue generating activities and public-private partnerships still to be had. Holding such events will also build upon our capacity to host more mega events more competently in the future.

For now, the premature pullout, with the stated reasons for it, has meted our country another political blow in our already precarious image internationally. The apparent standoff between the two sports governing bodies seriously undermines the athletes and the sports that they are mandated to uphold.

Sport is a matter of national interest and national interest always trumps politics and personal biases.

Geraldine Go Bernardo is a lecturer at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. She is a 2005 double-SEAG gold medalist for the National Dragon Boat Women’s Team and the first female executive director of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) during the Aquino administration. She will be organizing the very first Sport Business Convergence (SportBizCon) international event slated for a September 2018 run, in Manila, Philippines, under the auspices of the Asian Association for Sport Management (AASM).

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