MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATED) The 31st Southeast Asian Games will not be held in 2021, as the region continues to reel from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Rep. Abraham "Bambol" Tolentino on Thursday announced that the SEA Games Federation unanimously decided on the postponement of the biennial event.
"We're united in the decision," Tolentino said. "Wala po muna tayong SEA Games this year due to COVID-19 in the region, the Southeast Asian region."
The SEA Games were supposed to be held in Hanoi, Vietnam on November 21 to December 2.
Southeast Asian countries are still reeling from the pandemic. According to the COVID-19 tracker of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Indonesia has the most number of cases in the region (2,379,397), followed by the Philippines (1,455,585).
As of July 8, host nation Vietnam has 23,385 reported cases of COVID-19, with 105 deaths. Vietnam was widely hailed last year for its response to the pandemic, but has struggled in rolling out vaccines and is now experiencing its worst outbreak.
Tolentino stressed that the SEA Games are not cancelled. Rather, they are waiting for an update from the Vietnam organizing committee as to when the event can be held. The expectation is that Vietnam will reschedule the SEA Games for early 2022.
"In 10 days, sana maka-decide na sila," Tolentino said of the Vietnam organizers.
"Mas gusto nilang matuloy, so I think mamimili na lang ng dates, whether it's March, April, or May," he added.
The postponement means that it's back to the drawing board for the Philippine Sports Commission in terms of the Filipino athletes' preparation for the SEA Games.
Majority of the national team athletes were inactive in 2020 due to the pandemic, and it was not until January that some of them received clearance to train at the Inspire Sports Academy in preparation for Olympic qualifying events.
PSC commissioner Ramon Fernandez, the chef-de-mission to the SEA Games, previously called on national sports associations to partner with local government units in creating a "bubble" environment for athletes to train.
"We'll play it by ear at this point," Fernandez said when asked about the training of the Filipino athletes.
"We have to review the schedule of the games, and listen to the other NSAs kung ano ang plano nila," he added, stressing that they will wait for Vietnam's announcement regarding the new dates.
The Philippines hosted the 2019 edition of the SEA Games, emerging as overall champions after winning a record 149 gold medals.
Vietnam previously hosted the SEA Games in 2003. It has allocated a budget of around $69 million for the Games.
The multisports competition is expected to attract nearly 20,000 participants, including about 7,000 athletes, from 11 countries, according to state media.
Apart from Olympic disciplines, SEA Games sports are likely to include billiards and snooker, bodybuilding, chess, bowling and kurash, an ancient form of Uzbek wrestling. -- With Agence France-Presse.