Duterte to attend SEA Games opening ceremony

James Edgar - Agence France-Presse
Duterte to attend SEA Games opening ceremony
President Rodrigo Duterte prepares to toss the ball during the 2016 FIBA Olympic men’s qualifying basketball tournament between the Philippines and France at the MOA Arena on July 5, 2016.
AFP / File photo

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte will attend Saturday's opening ceremony of the Southeast Asian Games, the presidential palace said, a day after the Philippine leader apologized for the chaotic build-up.

The organization of the 30th edition of the SEA Games has been mocked and marred by complaints about transport, accommodation and food as thousands of athletes have flooded into the Philippines for the biggest-ever edition of the multi-sport event.

And the threat of an approaching typhoon -- forecasted to hit the north of the country early next week -- looms large.

Duterte had pledged a probe into the troubled run-up to the Games' opening ceremony at the Philippine Arena, around 25 kilometres (15 miles) north of the capital Manila, after a rush of logistical problems and last-minute construction.

"I'm really apologizing for the country... they (other nations) should know while they are still here that the government is not happy," Duterte said in an interview that aired Friday.

"You cannot just cast away all those -- the discomfort, the sufferings of the athletes, sleeping on the floors, getting hungry," he added. "To the countries that sent them here, it's a big deal."

He also instructed organizers to release complimentary tickets to many of the 56 sports at the SEA Games to locals.

The Philippines was bracing for a typhoon which national forecasters warned was maintaining its strength.

PAGASA said Typhoon Kammuri -- which is packing gusts of 185 kilometres (115 miles) per hour and maximum sustained winds of 150 kph (93 mph) -- is presently heading right for Games venues in the north of the country and is expected to make landfall on Tuesday.

First gold

As the build-up woes cast a shadow over the Games, Indonesia clinched the first gold medal of the competition with a historic victory, bringing Singapore's 54-year stranglehold on the men's water polo competition to an end.

With only sailing, windsurfing and netball on the sporting schedule on Saturday, all eyes will be on the opening ceremony, which starts at 7 p.m. (1100 GMT).

Many of the details remain a secret, although the show's director, Filipino writer Floy Quintos, shared a photo on Facebook of hundreds of performers in colourful costumes on stage.

"Yes, the show is a spectacle," wrote the award-winning playwright, adding the image showed a people "united".

"And the power of spectacle is one that has been used, worldwide by the powerful to further agendas. But it is in the hands of the spectacle's creators to patch together some meaning, some cohesion, some message that goes beyond the political."

This year's Games in Clark, Manila and Subic, which run through to December 11, are particularly complex with a record 56 sports across dozens of venues that are in some cases hours' drives apart, even before Manila's notorious gridlock traffic is factored in.

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