Organizers race against time to host SEA Games

Gigi Grande, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 19 2019 12:14 AM | Updated as of Oct 21 2019 07:21 PM

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(UPDATED) Every day since September, Bettina Pou has been working feverishly in a hot, dusty room at Rizal Memorial Sports Complex in Manila.

Pou, secretary-general of the Gymnastics Association of the Philippines, the sport’s national governing body, smiles when asked about Carlos Yulo, the golden boy who just returned victorious from the world gymnastics championships in Germany.

Then it’s back to hurried phone calls, emails, and paperwork amid the construction noise of banging and drilling.

Pou is “nervous and stressed”. It is six weeks before the official opening of the 30th Southeast Asian Games. Yet renovations are ongoing to transform the Rizal Memorial Basketball Coliseum into a gymnastics competition venue.

Fourteen container vans of equipment have yet to arrive in the country.

Pou is equally perturbed about the adjacent training area that Southeast Asian gymnasts will use.

“There was no time to renovate it, so it’s just being repainted and patched up. It won’t be air-conditioned and the bathrooms are embarrassing. I’m concerned because this is what we’re showing to the world,” she said.

A look at the gymnastics training area being prepared for the SEA Games. The video was taken Oct. 11. ABS-CBN News

These SEA Games will be the most ambitious so far, with 530 events in 56 sports held across Luzon from November 30 to December 11.

It is a chance for the Philippines to show athletic prowess and attract business and tourism.

Yet a series of roadblocks and hiccups have led to what is now a mad rush to ready the country for the big event.

Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) Chairman William “Butch” Ramirez pointed to two reasons for delayed preparations. “First, the dynamics between POC and PHISGOC officials. Second, the delayed passage of the national budget.”

The POC- or Philippine Olympic Committee- holds the franchise for the SEA Games. The PHISGOC- or Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee- is an ad hoc group that is supposed to organize and oversee the preparations.

The creation of PHISGOC in 2018 created a deeper divide in an already fragmented POC.

While some POC officials were at the forefront of PHISGOC’s incorporation, others were incensed at being sidelined. Each viewed the other with distrust.

“The old POC wanted all decisions of PHISGOC to pass through them, from procurement to preparations to broadcasting and marketing, even venues,” said incumbent POC President Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino, who was elected in July 2019. “Technically, the friction caused delays.”

“There were enormous disagreements and politics there,” Ramirez said. “PSC was not part of the conflict but I suppose we are partly to blame. We could have intervened.”

Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, Jr., former POC president, and PHISGOC COO Ramon Suzara could not be reached for comment as of writing.

In August 2019, PSC, POC and PHISGOC signed a tripartite agreement and made a commitment to work together.

And there was much work that had to be done.

The bulk of the P6.1 billion SEA Games hosting budget had only been released to the PSC on May 29--about a month after President Duterte signed the 2019 national budget.

Government’s procurement laws involve a lengthy process that takes months, Ramirez said in explaining why equipment requested by many national sports associations have not yet been delivered. A lot of equipment cannot be bought off the shelf. They are manufactured based on specifications and must be shipped to the Philippines from abroad.

He said it would be unfair to put all the blame on the PSC.

“The process begins with a request from PHISGOC for equipment or programs. They submit it to us in PSC and we evaluate the request. Then we forward it to the Department of Budget and Management for final evaluation and approval,” Ramirez said.

House Speaker Cayetano told reporters in New Clark City in Capas town, Tarlac, this week: “Ayaw ko magturuan.”

“Pero mayroon ding late o hindi nag-submit o kaya ’yung nag-submit kulang, so it's a domino effect,” Cayetano added.

A host country often performs better because of what’s called the “home advantage”. That’s because the home team has an opportunity to train with equipment and facilities to be used in the actual competition, an advantage visiting teams supposedly don’t have.

A look at the tennis courts being prepared for the SEA Games. The video was taken Oct. 11. ABS-CBN News

But with time ticking, Pou said the gymnastics team may not be able to maximize that benefit.

“The usual equipment when training here is Spieth, a German brand. What will be installed is Taishan. It’s a Chinese brand but approved by the international federation,” Pou said.

“Our athletes need to get a feel of the new equipment and get used to the floor, some are softer, some are harder. Hopefully, they will have time to do that.”

In New Clark City, the Athletics Stadium is ready. Throwing equipment and landing mats have arrived, but some crucial materials have yet to be delivered and installed.

They include the photo-finish timing system, the false-start detection system, the display board for jumps and throws, and the electronic distance measurement system, said Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association Competition Manager Janette Obiena.

“We were told by PHISGOC that the bidding was last week,” she said. “We don’t know which provider won.”

Obiena, whose son EJ is favored to win the gold in pole vaulting, is beginning to get anxious but trying to stay calm.

“We hope all the equipment will be in place by October 26 so we can proceed with the twenty four events to test the equipment,” Obiena said.

A look at the skate park being prepared for the SEA Games. The photos were taken Oct. 15. ABS-CBN News

A look at the skate park being prepared for the SEA Games. The photos were taken Oct. 15. ABS-CBN News

A look at the skate park being prepared for the SEA Games. The photos were taken Oct. 15. ABS-CBN News

A look at the Ninoy Aquino Stadium, which will host weightlifting and taekwondo competitions, being prepared for the SEA Games. The photos were taken Oct. 16. ABS-CBN News

A look at the Ninoy Aquino Stadium, which will host weightlifting and taekwondo competitions, being prepared for the SEA Games. The photos were taken Oct. 16. ABS-CBN News

A look at the Ninoy Aquino Stadium, which will host weightlifting and taekwondo competitions, being prepared for the SEA Games. The photos were taken Oct. 16. ABS-CBN News

A look at the Ninoy Aquino Stadium, which will host weightlifting and taekwondo competitions, being prepared for the SEA Games. The photos were taken Oct. 16. ABS-CBN News

A look at the gymnastics area being prepared for the SEA Games. The photos were taken Oct. 16. ABS-CBN News

A look at the gymnastics area being prepared for the SEA Games. The photos were taken Oct. 16. ABS-CBN News

A look at the gymnastics area being prepared for the SEA Games. The photos were taken Oct. 16. ABS-CBN News

A look at the gymnastics area being prepared for the SEA Games. The photos were taken Oct. 16. ABS-CBN News

A look at the gymnastics area being prepared for the SEA Games. The photos were taken Oct. 16. ABS-CBN News

A look at the gymnastics area being prepared for the SEA Games. The photos were taken Oct. 16. ABS-CBN News

Of all the competition venues, Rizal Memorial Sports Complex appears to have the most work that needs to be done.

Down the road from the gymnastics area, what is supposed to be spanking new, world-class squash courts are just walls of concrete and beams.

“The contractor hasn’t ordered the courts,” said Bob Banchmann, President of the Philippine Squash Academy, the sport’s national governing body. “The building might be ready in time for the Games, but the courts won’t make it. The supplier, COURTTECH Asia, said the courts will be shipped out of Germany and delivered November 28, but it will take three weeks to install.”

Bachmann said he will write the SEA Squash Federation to formally cancel the men’s jumbo doubles, the women’s jumbo doubles and the mixed doubles.

The other squash events will be held at the Manila Polo Club in Makati.

“It’s embarrassing. If you’re going to cancel events, this should have been done six to eight months ago,” he said.

“Thailand has been training for jumbo; Indonesia has gone to Thailand to train for jumbo.”

Construction is also ongoing for the tennis courts and the football field at Rizal, as well as the Ninoy Aquino Stadium, the venue for weightlifting and taekwondo.

Ramirez clarified that not a single cent of the SEA Games budget was used to renovate these facilities.

“In the initial discussions, these government facilities were not supposed to be used for the SEA Games. We asked PAGCOR to fund the renovations, not because of the Games, but because it was really part of the PSC’s plan,” he said.

All said, Ramirez remains optimistic construction of the facilities will be completed in time for the games.

“I do not want to embarrass the country so we will do our best to procure the equipment and finish the venues on time. The pride of the Filipino is at stake.”

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