At the halfway mark, the SEA Games in Laos have been perceived as a great success, particularly among the local population, whose pride in the event is palpable. By and large, they are justified in their pride — the event has generally been going very well. But not everything has been smooth sailing. Here are three issues that come to mind — the good, the bad and the ugly, if you like.
The venues: Coverage of Laos’ dependence on foreign support for building facilities has perhaps overshadowed the strategy’s success in producing a wide range of high-quality stadia and other venues. From the National Sporting Complex – comprising the main stadium, swimming pool complex, two indoor gymnasiums and various other facilities – to the complex of five venues at the National University site and further indoor stadia at Beungkhangong (pictured), Lao ITECC and the National Budo centre in town, the facilities are most impressive and have been well and truly up to the task of hosting the games. Moreover, the events occurring inside the venues — at least those I’ve seen — have gone off without incident, providing often capacity crowds with a fantastic experience and producing an exceptional atmosphere.
Programs: The dissemination of information has been less effective. While the official website provides most essential information — including a summary of what sports are on each day — printed programs with details of events and event times would have been handy (I‘ve asked countless people for one and they seem not to exist). This information is also available online but in a format that is hard to take with you and makes planning difficult — unless you print the full schedule, which in the tabular form used on the website runs to over a hundred A4 pages.
Football ticket sales: Despite the significant crowds at all events, it is the men’s football that has truly captured the city’s imagination. Perhaps the national team’s passage to the semi-finals was unexpected but there was clearly no strategy in place for disseminating the 20,000 highly prized tickets for Laos’ semi against Malaysia on Monday night. When tickets went on sale yesterday, I went along to the main ticket office — one of the two or three or four places selling tickets (depending who you talk to) — to be met by the unforgettable sight of thousands of fans queuing, pushing, screaming and arguing as they sought to enter one of two normal-sized doors to the double-fronted office to buy a ticket. With tempers frayed, reports of brawling were certainly believable.
Needless to say, the game itself took place in a much more pleasant atmosphere, as the lucky ticket holders screamed, hooted and honked in one voice for the national team. For the record, Laos fell back to earth with a 1-3 loss, meaning Malaysia will meet Vietnam in Thursday’s final.