Vietnam has withdrawn as the host of the 2019 Asian Games, saying it lacked funds and the country’s reputation could be at risk if the event flops.
The government’s initial decision to host the games had generated little excitement domestically, and there had been increasing opposition in the media and on blogs. Many questioned whether the cost — in the hundreds of millions of dollars — was worth it, given the country was still struggling to emerge from the global financial crisis.
The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) yesterday said it was “surprised” by the decision, which leaves it scrambling to find a new host.
“The matter will have to be discussed at length by the OCA,” Olympic Council of Asia secretary-general Randhir Singh said. “It’s a decision which has to be taken judiciousl, considering various factors. We have to decide who will be able to deliver, keeping in mind the time factor.’’
The Vietnamese Ministry of Sports had budgeted US$150 million for the event, the largest in terms of participant numbers outside of the Summer Olympics. However, economists and others had said the bill could be five times higher, and possibly reach the spending levels for this year’s Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, which could reportedly top US$1 billion.
“Hosting this could help us promote the country’s image and position. However, if the hosting is not properly and successfully prepared, it will have the opposite effect,” the government said in a statement late on Thursday.
“The state budget is limited and must be prioritized for other immediate tasks,” the statement added.
While the OCA will have to quickly decide on a replacement host, it does have the benefit of an extra year, as Hanoi was to have been the first games of a new schedule that would put the event the year ahead of the Summer Olympics.
Surabaya, Indonesia, had been the other serious bidder for 2019, while Dubai, United Arab Emirates, expressed initial interest, but withdrew.
Vietnam’s top sprinter, Vu Thi Huong, was personally disappointed, but she supported the decision.
“Like all Vietnamese, I would like friends from other countries to come to Vietnam to see the country with their own eyes, but once they come they should have a good impression of Vietnam,” said Huong, who has won five gold medals at the Southeast Asian Games, and a silver and a bronze medals at the Asian Games.
“As an athlete I would have loved to have the Asian Games in Vietnam, but our current conditions do not allow that,” she added.
“A decision that wins the heart of the people,” was the front page headline of the widely read Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
However, Vietnam Olympic Committee deputy chairman Hoang Vinh Giang was unhappy.
“It’s very regretted that Vietnam has withdrawn from hosting the Games,” Giang said. “This is a very good opportunity. I don’t know when Vietnam will have another chance to host.”
The Asian Games features similar events to the Summer Olympics, but also include sports popular in Asia. More than 40 nations take part.