Save the SEA Games
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - November 25, 2019 - 12:00am

The inadequacies or absence of systems for the 30th SEA Games is alarmingly apparent, with mere days to go before its formal opening.

First of all, despite the gargantuan expense, there is no signage announcing the Games on any major thoroughfares throughout Metro Manila. Even the Games venues themselves have not been dressed up for the biennial event, which the country last hosted in 2005. Other countries’ athletes started arriving two weeks ago to no fanfare, greeters or even any billboards welcoming them at any of the country’s airports. It’s as if there’s nothing going on. 

Worse, no vehicles or proper hotel rooms (or beds) have been available for some of the early delegations. PHISGOC has a budget of P136,545,000 for Broadcast Services, but no advanced publicity or outdoor advertising. Only the announcements of TV networks on electronic billboards on highways give a glimpse of the events to come. 

After The STAR exposed the grossly bloated budget for the Games (such as its million-dollar cauldron), sports officials and Games volunteers have come forward with more alarming information. 

“The athletes’ and volunteers’ uniforms are not even included in the budget,” claims one national sports association (NSA) head. “P6 billion is way too much. We can do the Games with P2 billion easily. I only wanted to stand up against those ‘outsiders’ calling the shots.”

One other concern is the P183,528,900 PHISGOC has allocated for catering. Muslim athletes from other countries fear that there will be no halal food when their events begin. Furthermore, the Games volunteers are dispersed over a wide area and various venues. Most of them will not even be able to go to the centralized mess halls where the food the government paid for is being served. Some are saying they should have been given meal allowances or gift certificates from food sponsors, instead. It is impractical to spend so much on food that they have no access to. Any experienced event organizer would know that. Also, a PHISGOC volunteer from Pampanga reached out to The STAR, decrying how the more competent staff and officers were forced out supposedly after they had installed the proper systems for the conduct of the Games. The replacements were allegedly unqualified for the tasks assigned them. 

The public is also confused about holding the opening ceremonies at the Philippine Arena, when the P 55.9-million cauldron is at the new sports complex at New Clark City. If you’ve been to Philippine Arena, you would be familiar with the horrible traffic created by any large event there, not the first impression you want to give foreign delegates from the rest of ASEAN. 

The STAR has also received reports that the traditional torch relay has been beset with problems. In some locales, organizers did not get permits from local government units, and were constrained to shorten their routes or hold legs of the relay in mall parking lots, instead. Bear in mind, this same organizing group will manage the Southeast Asian Para Games at many of the same venues in January, as is standard practice after every SEA Games. Perhaps some of the unfinished (and unpaid for) Games venues will be ready by then.

Large-scale multi-sport events can be run professionally and profitably. In 1984, Major League Baseball’s Peter Ueberroth was head of the Los Angeles Olympic Games Organizing Committee. The first thing he did was sign a television contract to obtain seed capital. Then he asked Games sponsors to build new venues for him, a practice now known as “naming rights.” He had a volunteer work force of over 40,000. Yet, LA was the first modern Olympics that did not lose money. And the US government did not spend anything.

Those being criticized, meanwhile, have tried to deflect criticism in a number of ways, first by passing blame on to the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC). The PSC is bound by law to help national sports programs, and is a default disbursing agency for public funds used for the SEA Games. But PSC is not a signatory to the questionable PHISGOC foundation. What must be determined, rather, is whether or not PHISGOC has followed bidding and procurement laws in acquiring equipment, materials and services. Their million-dollar cauldron was apparently a commissioned work.

The 2005 Philippine SEA Games spent only P300 million. Afterwards, the Commission on Audit still disallowed about P27 million of the Games’ budget, and told the Philippine Olympic Committee then to return the said amount. COA will likewise do a post-audit for these Games, and will surely ask for larger sums of money to be returned. But that will be long after these lavish amounts have been spent on things that essentially have no impact on the Filipino athletes’ performance. So once again, we have to plead with those selfsame athletes to please, please, save our public image, and save our SEA Games. Winning washes away many sins.

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