by Thanh Nga
Will it be Ha Noi or HCM City? Cost considerations may prove decisive as the government mulls where to organise the 31st Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in 2021. It will be the second time Viet Nam will host the Games, having staged the 22nd edition in Ha Noi in 2003.
HCM City looks unlikely to have the opportunity to host the regional event, as Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has demanded that cities and provinces not build new facilities to host domestic and international sports events, in order to cut costs and make optimum use of existing facilities.
Vuong Bich Thang, general director of the National Sports Administration, said, during a meeting in Ha Noi early this month that it would be more economical to organise the event in Ha Noi than in HCM City. The infrastructure built for the 2003 Games in Ha Noi would only need to be maintained and upgraded, whereas if the Games were to be held in HCM City, Viet Nam would have to invest a significant amount of money to build and upgrade the necessary infrastructure.
"If Ha Noi holds these Games, Viet Nam will save money. The experience from hosting the Games earlier will also help Ha Noi organise the event better," said student Pham Thu Thuy.
Agreeing with Thuy's point, Nguyen Minh Duong said, "I think that holding the 31st SEA Games in Ha Noi is the most suitable (option). It has good facilities for the event. The country should save money for developing the poor provinces and districts, and for building new roads and hospitals."
According to an official in the Viet Nam Olympic Committee, the country will have to spend around US$100 million to host the Games in 2021. But experts dispute this figure.
Viet Nam spent $250 million to host the Games in 2003. Taking into account rising prices, HCM City will definitely need more than $250 million to host the Games in 2021, they say.
HCM City will need to upgrade old facilities and build new ones, including a new stadium with 50,000-60,000 seats, an aquatic sports complex, and accommodations, besides buying security equipment.
Nguyen Hong Minh, former head of the Elite Sport Department of the National Sports Administration, said HCM City will need US$100 million just to build a new stadium equivalent to the National My Dinh Stadium in Ha Noi and an aquatic sports complex.
"Adding other items, the cost of holding the Games in HCM City will be $200-300 million, or even more," Minh said.
Last April, Vietnamese authorities decided to withdraw plans to host the 2018 Asian Games, following a public outcry over the $150 million price tag.
Despite the likely high cost of holding the 2021 Games in HCM City, many people support the idea, arguing it will give the southern city an opportunity to upgrade its sports facilities.
"HCM is the big city in the country, but it has never held a big sports event. The Games in 2021 are a chance for the city to build modern and big sports facilities that can host national and international events and match the sports infrastructure in Thailand and Malaysia," Phan Tien, a resident of HCM City, said.
"It will also give HCM City a chance to attract visitors and promote the image of Viet Nam and its people internationally," Tien added.
"At present, the infrastructure for sports in HCM City doesn't match the city's size. Its biggest stadium, the 25,000-seat Thong Nhat stadium, is not up to the mark and doesn't meet the fans' demands. We often say that HCM City is equal to the big cities in the region, but it doesn't have any stadiums to compare with them," said Tien.
"HCM City will not have a good stadium in the next 50 to 100 years if it doesn't organise this regional sports event. It can't become the biggest economic hub of Viet Nam and the region. The city needs a modern stadium to serve fans in the south and welcome international athletes to compete in the SEA Games," said Hoang Minh Giang.
According to Do Tho, building new infrastructure for the Games would be costly, but cities and provinces in Viet Nam need to invest in sports facilities for people to take part in sports and recreational activities.
As for the expense, Tho has a solution. "HCM City can build new facilities with non-State funds. The government can call for investment by companies and frame reasonable policies for them."
"Viet Nam spent $250 million for the 22nd Games held in Ha Noi, when the economy was not so developed. Now Viet Nam's economy is better, why can't it invest?" Tho asked.
While supporting HCM City hosting the Games in 2021, Nguyen Manh Dung said the authorities needed to plan carefully to avoid wasting money after the Games.
"I back HCM City holding the SEA Games, but we should follow the advanced countries. For the 2012 Summer Olympics, England built only temporary facilities. After the event, the facilities were reduced in scale or put to other uses," Dung said.
Other countries in the region, such as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, often hold the Games in different places to develop the local economies and promote tourism in those areas, he said.
The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, and the National Sports Administration are making detailed plans for organising the 31st edition of the Games for the government's approval. Whichever city is selected as the venue, the Games will help promote sports in Viet Nam. — VNS