Agnes Cruz, Special to Arab News
Publication Date: 
Fri, 2003-12-19 03:00

MANILA, 19 December 2003 — As expected, Manila will be the main hub for the 23rd Southeast Asian Games in 2005.

This was announced by Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) President Celso Dayrit as he spelled out guidelines for the possible holding of some events outside the metropolis.

“First, the city or province should play host to a minimum of five events. That’s under SEA Games Federation rules. Second, prospective hosts will have to take care of expenditure,” said Dayrit.

Subic, Clark, Cebu, Bacolod and Davao have signified intentions to host some SEAG events.

“We cannot promise that the Manila Games will be the best. It will be a first in the games. We will organize it the Filipino way,” said Dayrit.

The POC is looking at a maximum of 30 events, but will work to push for Olympic sports. However, in the event of little government support and cooperation, Dayrit said they might limit the events to between 22 to 25.

The POC has set Feb. 1 as the deadline for cities or provinces to formally submit its resolution and July 1 for the submission of pertinent papers.

“We will decide between July and October before the SEAG Federation meeting who will get to host some events. We will also finalize the events to be played in the games,” said Dayrit.

The POC head said due to fund constraints, Manila organizers will have to make do with existing facilities, including the historic Rizal Memorial Stadium.

In playing host to the games, the country is aiming to rehabilitate its tourism image while using sports competition to pursue peace in the troubled Mindanao region.

It would also aim to lure back tourists who may have been discouraged by recent negative impressions brought about by the damaging reports of terrorist-related events in the South.

Dayrit said the games would also help the Department of Tourism in projecting the positive side of the Philippines in the midst of kidnappings and bombings that have hurt the country’s image abroad. “It’s an opportunity for Filipinos to stress that at least to our Southeast Asian neighbors that it’s not all negative in the Philippines,” said Dayrit. “Stressing it in the region may also mean that we would be asserting this to the world as well.”

It is customary for host countries to also feature cultural and tourism festivals that are organized to entertain and inform athletes and visitors on various destinations.

“We see the SEA Games as one big fiesta. Everything would be festive and all this will be revolving around the sports component of the games,” Dayrit said.

Interestingly, Filipino sports officials look at the 23rd SEA Games as a chance to repeat “the Miracle of 1991,” that achievement in which the athletes hauled down 91 golds and lost the overall championship to Indonesia by a mere one gold.

Dayrit had earlier allayed fears in the sports circle, saying the country won’t back down from hosting the prestigious multi-event competition. He stressed the country won’t turn its back on a commitment to hold the biennial meet, the region’s biggest multi-event conclave.

“It is a national commitment,” said Dayrit following talks with Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo on government’s support to the SEA Games’ staging. “There is no cause for alarm. There’s no indication of any change in course. We are proceeding with the work.”

Likewise, Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) Chairman Eric Buhain assured the government’s commitment to host the 2005 Games.

This is the third time that the country is hosting the meet following successful staging of the games in 1981 and 1991, when the Filipinos hauled down 91 golds to finish second behind Indonesia by one mint.

The SEA Games hosting cycle stood at 10 years until 1999 when Brunei was accommodated for the first time.

Vietnam got into the picture as host and is bringing the Games to Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi this month.

The hosting cycle would not be 16 years since eight of the 10 SEA Games countries have become capable of bringing the multi-sport meet to their shores. Only Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia, all landlocked countries, have yet to host the games.

The other member countries of the SEA Games that alternated in hosting the meet that earned its name SEA games in 1877 are Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. East Timor has become the provisional 11th member of the SEA Games, a development approved during a SEA Games Federation meeting in Busan last month.

Filipino sports officials expect to top the achievement of 1991, both on the athletic and organizational side.

Bids to host the event are also coming from Clark Field in Angeles, Pampanga, Cebu City, Iloilo, Bacolod and North Cotabato.

Dayrit pointed out that not even a change in the national leadership after the 2004 elections would be enough reason for the Philippines to abandon the SEA Games hosting, considering that the country has waited so long to host the event.

According to Dayrit, whoever is elected as the next president of the country will surely look forward to hosting the games. Besides, giving up the right to host the games will only create a negative impact on the country.

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