Sleeping on the floor: SEA Games off to horror-show start for soccer players

November 27, 2019 - 8:31 AM
Chairs are stacked inside an unfinished structure, formerly the media centre for soccer at the Southeast Asian Games, in Rizal Memorial Stadium
Chairs are stacked inside an unfinished structure, formerly the media centre for soccer at the Southeast Asian Games, in Rizal Memorial Stadium, Manila, Philippines, November 26, 2019. (Reuters/Neil Jerome Morales)

Soccer players sleeping on the floor or stranded at the airport, transport hiccups and handwritten fixture lists, not enough drinking water and food unfit for athletes — the Philippines‘ hosting of the Southeast Asian Games is off to a chaotic start.

Those in the soccer competition that started ahead of the main event beginning on Saturday have borne the brunt of the disruption.

Coaches from Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar have all vented their frustration over issues ranging from traffic snarl-ups and bland food to poor training sites and drivers dropping them off at the wrong hotels.

On their arrival, Cambodia’s players were stranded at the airport without transportation for three hours, then waited another eight hours for their hotel rooms to be prepared.

Photographs of them napping on the floors of a hotel were shared widely on social media, among tens of thousands of postings under the hashtags #SEAGamesfail and #SeaGames2019 fail as Filipinos ridiculed the organizers of a Games that some politicians had promised would be a roaring success.

“Unfortunately, we were the recipients of bad organization”, Felix Dalmas, coach of the Cambodian soccer team, told Reuters.

“But it’s alright, our guys are strong mentally. They performed regardless of what happened.”

Their hotel issued a statement saying the team had shown up before the standard check-in time.

Even the host nation’s athletes have had problems, with the Philippine women’s team cramming four or five players to a room designed for two people.

“Sad that we’re the host team and this is how we’re being treated. I cannot imagine how other countries must feel,” defender Hali Long posted on Facebook.

Their Vietnamese rivals complained that their meals were too small and that their hotel had told them to get written authorization from organizers if they wanted bigger portions.

In all the host city of Clark, north of Manila, and other Games venues are housing roughly 11,000 athletes and officials from 11 countries during the two-week event that officially kicks off on Saturday.

No excuses

“We have brought food with us from Vietnam,” coach Mai Duc Chung told Vietnam News Agency, adding that traffic jams were so bad that the team had asked for a police escort.

Organizers of the games apologized on Sunday and promised to do better. They blamed the confusion on changes to teams’ arrival details.

Salvador Panelo, spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte, apologized for “unintentional inconvenience suffered by our athlete-guests” and said Duterte “will not offer any excuses”.

Filipinos have been sharing photos of unfinished venues and posting sarcastic memes, drawing attention to a July comment by the president’s closest aide, Senator Christopher Go, promising a Games that would show the world the great job Duterte is doing.

Politicians meanwhile have been trading barbs about who to blame, with a row brewing between some opposition lawmakers and members of the organizing committee, chaired by Duterte’s former running mate, over alleged corruption and budget delays that slowed down disbursement of Games funds.

The media center for soccer was moved to a smaller air-conditioned room on Tuesday after journalists complained about having to attend a press conference in what appeared to be an unfinished warehouse, with scaffolding, exposed bricks and no ventilation.

Singapore’s chef-de-mission Juliana Seow wrote to the organizing committee asking for their “urgent and immediate attention” to address the hurdles their athletes were facing, including a lack of halal food.

“A few of the officials did not manage to have anything to eat and had to starve,” she wrote.

On Monday, Senator Go told the upper house that the Games organizers needed to stop apologizing and start getting things fixed.

“What we need is for everyone to wake up,” he said.—By Karen Lema; Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales in Manila and Khanh Vu in Hanoi; Editing by Martin Petty and Hugh Lawson