MANILA—The biggest multi-sports event in Southeast Asia is set to open Saturday with host Philippines seeking to top the medal standings while reaching a record number of global viewers by including competitive video gaming in the biennial meet for the first time.
Chief organizer Alan Peter Cayetano promised a “great show” at the 55,000-seat Philippine Arena in Bulacan, saying opening ceremonies of the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games would follow a standard similar to that of the Olympics.
The "grand plan" is to go beyond the region’s 655-million population and reach a much larger global audience through e-sports, said Jarie Osias, spokesman of the SEA Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC).
"The vision of the government is for (it) to be the biggest and most-watched SEA Games ever hosted by the Philippines," he told ABS-CBN News.
A global League of Legends tournament last year, for instance, attracted 99.6 million “unique viewers online,” according to a Fortune report.
Back home, local organizers have been criticized over reports of poor accommodation and some unfinished facilities with only days to go before the opening ceremonies.
House Speaker Cayetano, who sits concurrently as chairman of PHISGOC, earlier promised to submit to a congressional inquiry into the glitches and allegations of corruption.
Osias acknowledged “there could be bad news or not-so-good news” in a massive sports event involving more than 8,000 athletes and team officials from 11 countries.
“What is important is it’s based on truth,” he said. “What PHISGOC is taking exception to is the proliferation of fake news.”
This year’s SEA Games will have the most number of sports events at 56 in the regional tournament’s 60-year history.
Aside from compulsory sports such as swimming and athletics, host countries can pick other events where they believe they can win gold, said Cristy Ramos, former president of the Philippine Olympic Committee.
"In a lot of ways, it has to be advantageous to the host because sometimes it doesn't make sense if the events that they're choosing will not add medals to the host's tally," she told ABS-CBN News.
But Ramos also warned of "gigantism" or the danger of sports events "becoming too big" to be managed properly by the host country.
A total of 530 games will be played in 56 venues spread across 4 clusters including Metro Manila, Subic, and the New Clark City where a world-class stadium was built for the tournament.
"We really don't have to host 56 sports,” she said. “Logistically speaking, it's also very difficult.”