A sigh of relief » Manila Bulletin Sports

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by Ding Marcelo

The 2017 Southeast Asian Games are weeks away, but the Philippines has jumped the gun on its rivals, scoring a big win even before rival countries can send their athletes limbering up for their events.

As early as now, the Philippines, the chosen host of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, has dropped the hosting of the games.

Dropping the games is a startling move. There are many perks to hosting this regional event that comes around once every two years, where many Olympic events are held, and where the host country can nominate judges, field as many athletes as it can afford to send, welcome cheering hordes, and generally gain home-court advantage. Traditionally, the host country brings home the overall championship, or at least a respectable number of medals.

The ongoing war in Marawi is what triggered the Philippine government’s decision to abandon the hosting, but even before this, many factors had already been conspiring to show us that hosting the SEA Games two years from now is a bad idea.

One is that the country is ill-prepared to undertake the task. Besides the security concerns from possible terrorist attacks, there are the major issues of logistics and lack of available venues.

The last time the Games were held here was 12 years ago, in 2005, when the opening ceremony was held at the Rizal Park, which gave the ceremony the veneer of a nice day in the park.

But once the games were underway, proper venues had to be provided, all of which, 12 years later, need major rehab work that will run into the millions. And with just two years to go to the Games, and the promise of those millions uncertain, these venues would probably end up being substandard by regional-events standards.

Of course, as these country events go, there is a bit of embarrassment hanging over this cancellation. See, the Philippines committed to the hosting job just roughly two years back, when Brunei, which had earlier been designated SEAG host, backed out because of its financial and organizational problems.

Wait there – Brunei is far wealthier than the Philippines! So how did it happen that we took over?

Well, quite simply, it was someone’s ego trip that did it.

Philippine Olympic Committee president Jose “Peping” Cojuangco Jr., virtually on his own, played the knight in shining armor during a SEAG executive committee meeting, announcing that the Philippines would take over the job. (He received applause from the sports officials of the other countries, of course.)

Whether the now 80-year-old Peping was looking for his last hurrah, we don’t know for sure, but what is obvious is that he had no patience to wait out six more years, when it would have been the country’s turn to host the Games. With no prior consultation, study, or collective approval, Peping boldly offered to host the 2019 Games, committing the country to something that was certain to put a large hole in the our finances, and equally certain to drain the already limited resources set aside for sports development.

But, if the man’s track record is any gauge, he is obviously comfortable with spending people’s money on grand schemes that have no meritorious effect on sports or on the people themselves. This is the person who, in 2013, prepared an extravaganza in Boracay to celebrate the Olympic Council of Asia anniversary, which was threatening to become so massive and expensive it could rival a bacchanalian feast of Caligula. Typhoon Yolanda wiped it all out in the end, but not after millions of pesos had already been spent in the preparations.

And had it pushed through, we might ask: What was the benefit of all that? And for whom?

Anyway, we breathe a sigh of relief. There will be no SEA Games for the country to host in 2019, and there will be no last hurrah for Peping, whose reputation as the 12-year architect of the country’s woeful sports record will remain intact.

Sadly, it took Marawi to set things right.

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