Vietnamese sports: Overcoming challenges towards the future

Going through a 2020 full of upheavals, the biggest success of Vietnamese sports was to sail through the obstacles caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to successfully organise and complete the majority of events, tournaments and plans.

SEA Games 31 is greatly anticipated by sport lovers.
SEA Games 31 is greatly anticipated by sport lovers.

Entering the New Year 2021, the national sport sector is gearing up for new goals, especially the hosting of the 31st Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games 31).

Fair-play spirit from the hosts

All international sporting events have been suspended and it remains uncertain that they will go ahead in 2021 as rescheduled. Regardless of that fact, Vietnam still shows its determination to organise SEA Games 31 from November 21 to December 2 and the 11th ASEAN Para Games in the following fortnight. The SEA Games is the largest sporting event in Southeast Asia, gathering the participation of 11 regional countries and holding high cultural, political, diplomatic and economic significance. It offers an occasion to widely promote ASEAN nations’ culture, potential and socio-economic achievements to international friends. SEA Games 31 in Vietnam is expected to bring together more than 10,000 officials, trainers and athletes competing in Hanoi and some neighbouring provinces. My Dinh National Stadium will be the hosting venue of the Games’ opening and closing ceremonies.

A total of 40 sports with 520 events have been confirmed for competition at SEA Games 31, of which there are 24 sports under the Olympic system – the highest number in SEA Games history. Obviously, unlike the SEA Games editions for the past decades with many new sports appearing in the competition programme, Vietnam does not abuse the privilege of the hosts to gain an upper hand. The country has demonstrated the spirit of fair play, orientating the focus towards a high-level arena, the Olympics. This innovative point will give SEA Games 31 a historic push aiming to approach the organisational style of two major sporting events, the Asian Games and the Olympics. SEA Games 31 will no longer be a “local festival” but can be considered a quality premise for high-performance athletes to count on as a measure of a greater ambition at the Olympic level. The professional factor of the Games will be elevated because participating delegations will have to compete more fiercely, thus contributing to stepping up the development of sports in Southeast Asia.

In addition, most of the remaining 16 sports were held in the previous SEA Games editions, with some (e-sport, jujitsu, kickboxing and kurash) having debuted at the 30th SEA Games in the Philippines two years ago. The only new sport at SEA Games 31 is beach soccer. However, at least six countries in Southeast Asia once sent teams to compete in this event in the Asian Championship, with Vietnam being the poorest performer. In other words, the organisation of beach soccer at SEA Games 31 is more of tourism promotion than profession.

Vietnamese sports: Overcoming challenges towards the future ảnh 1

Saola, the mascot of the 31st SEA Games and 11th ASEAN Para Games, debuts at a kick-off ceremony in Hanoi on November 21, 2020.

Remarkable challenges

However, Vietnamese sports will also have to accept a fact that it will not be able to achieve high results in a number of disciplines which see the participation of very strong athletes from other countries. In the region, the performance of Vietnamese sports at the Asian Games and Olympic arenas is often behind Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia. The organisation of all Olympic and Asian Games events at the upcoming SEA Games 31 means Vietnamese athletes will face enormous challenges. As part of the preparations for the Games, Vietnam’s sports sector actively held national championships in late 2020. With overseas training unfeasible in the context of COVID-19, Vietnamese athletes are taking full advantage of the domestic training and competing time to improve their profession and maintain their form.

At SEA Games 30 in 2019, Vietnamese sports far exceeded the target of making the top three in the overall tally, settling for second place with a collection of 98 gold, 85 silver and 103 bronze medals, ranking only behind the hosts, the Philippines. Notably, for the first time ever, Vietnam took the top honour in both the men’s and women’s football events. With SEA Games 31 taking place on home field, the mission of the sports industry is not only to strive for high results but also to bring joy to fans, especially in the events much favoured by the Vietnamese people, such as football and volleyball. The Vietnamese men's and women's football teams will face great pressure and responsibility when shouldering the task of defending their SEA Games thrones. Not just football, athletes in other sports will also head into the competition with top goals and the highest fighting spirit for victory.

Eighteen years ago, Vietnam once hosted the 22nd SEA Games (2003), which involved over 5,000 athletes in 42 sports and saw Vietnam dominate the overall standings. SEA Games 31 will be the second edition hosted by Vietnam; however, organising the regional Games in the context of COVID-19 will be a big challenge for the host country. The pandemic has seriously affected the preparatory work for SEA Games 31, forcing the host country to race against time to ensure SEA Games 31 and ASEAN Para Games 11 take place as scheduled. The issue of containing the disease when the two are underway is of great significance. Accordingly, athletes, fans, and visitors to Vietnam will have to strictly comply with the country’s regulations on disease prevention and control. Vietnam has many expectations for SEA Games 31, especially the welcoming of the influx of foreign tourists to attend the event. However, that will only happen when the pandemic is basically under control in the country. And now, while in the preparation phase, Vietnam must anticipate all scenarios. Possibly, the revenue from ticket sales will decrease significantly, with matches even to be played behind closed doors to avoid the spread of the pandemic.

Sometimes, the benefits of the successful Games organisation cannot be optimally measured in economic benefits as it also offers a brilliant chance to widely promote the image and prestige of Vietnam, a friendly country of disease resilience and success.

List of 40 sports at SEA Games 31:

Track and field, aquatic sports, gymnastics, rowing, canoeing/kayak, football, shooting, archery, weightlifting, judo, taekwondo, karate, wushu, wrestling, boxing, kickboxing, fencing, badminton, sepak takraw, tennis, volleyball, basketball, handball, cycling, table tennis, billiards & snooker, golf, petanque, kurash, vovinam, chess, pencak silat, muay, bodybuilding, finswimming, dance sport, jujitsu, e-sport, bowling, and triathlon.