2017 in review

Correct investment significantly contributes to success of Vietnamese sport

Saturday, 2017-12-30 04:42:05
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The success of swimmer Nguyen Thi Anh Vien and the women's national football team at the 29th SEA Games is among the brightest spots of Vietnamese sport in 2017.
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NDO – 2017 continues to be a fruitful year for Vietnamese sport with many new achievements gained across different arenas. Vietnam successfully defended its place in the top three at the 29th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, whilst making the top ten on the overall podium of the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG 5), with most of the country’s gold medals and records won in the basic Olympic sport events.

It has also been an outstanding year for Vietnamese youth football, with a number of significant results being achieved at both regional and continental competitions. The right direction has been helping Vietnamese sport to reap fruits; however, there also remain certain inadequacies and shortcomings that have adversely affected the sporting sector’s development.

Best things come in small packages

Vietnamese sport has again proven itself as a power in Southeast Asia in 2017 claiming third place overall, with 58 gold, 51 silver and 60 bronze medals at the 29th SEA Games in Malaysia. It is worth mentioning that up to 90% of the gold medals belong to the basic sports under the Olympic and Asian Games (Asiad) competition systems. Remarkably, the athletics team made history with a resounding collection of 17 gold medals, dethroning Thailand from the dominant position that they have occupied for years (Thailand sent a record number of 90 athletes to the track and field competition but only managed to win nine gold medals). The commanding success of the Vietnam athletics team was attributed to the exceptional form of many young talents, who promise to progress further in the future, such as Le Tu Chinh. At the age of 20, Chinh has successfully conquered the full set of three gold medals in the short distances of 100m dash, 200m dash and 4x100m relay, with the times closely approaching the Games’ records, and is quite capable of competing for medals in the continental arena. Another Vietnamese star, Nguyen Thi Huyen, reaffirmed her SEA Games position with two gold medals in her favourite 400m dash and 400m hurdles events. Previously, the Nam Dinh-born sprinter twice won the gold medal at the 2017 Asian Athletics Championships. From the 29th SEA Games arena has emerged a generation of “golden athletes” of Vietnamese athletics, who converge experience and youthful power, as well as perseverance and a desire for victory.

Together with athletics, Vietnamese swimming once again showed its superiority, contributing ten gold medals to Vietnam’s 2017 SEA Games tally. Nguyen Thi Anh Vien remained the best female swimmer in the Southeast Asian region as she possessed a collection of eight individual titles in Kuala Lumpur. Meanwhile, Nguyen Huu Kim Son, the youngest competitor at the 2017 Games, made a fabulous SEA Games debut, taking the top honours and breaking the Games record in the men’s 400m medley category. The 15-year-old Vietnamese boy also brought home 14 gold medals from the 2017 Southeast Asian Age Group Swimming Championships, during which he satisfied four standards of the 2018 Youth Olympic Games. Son’s exceptional show in 2017 allows us to believe that in the near future, he is quite likely to become an excellent athlete and will reach the continental level.

In addition to swimming, the men’s gymnastics and fencing teams were also dominant at the Games with five gold medals for each. Vietnamese table tennis achieved a historic milestone with the men’s team title, overthrowing Singapore from their 20-year SEA Games reign in the event. The ninth ASEAN Para Games (APG) 2017 saw the Vietnamese delegation continue to gain significant results, claiming a total of 40 gold, 61 silver and 60 bronze medals. Especially, Vietnamese athletes with disabilities performed exceptionally in establishing ten new APG records, including two Asian records in powerlifting. The athletics team delivered the brightest performance with 17 gold medals, followed by the swimming team with only two titles fewer. With the aforementioned results, the Vietnamese delegations to the SEA Games and APG 2017 exceeded the targets set by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the General Department of Sports and Physical Training.

In 2017, Vietnam sport also reaped rewards in the continental arena with a ninth-place finish at the AIMAG 2017. The Vietnamese delegation exceeded the gold medal target, winning a total of 13 gold, eight silver and 19 bronze medals, with the highest feats achieved by chess stars, Le Quang Liem (three golds) and Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son (two golds), and swimmer Nguyen Thi Anh Vien (two golds). The excellent performance of the chess players and swimmers has helped Vietnam to overcome some of Asia’s sporting powers for the third time in a row. Objectively, AIMAG is not yet the strongest arena for the delegations to send their best athletes to compete, but the achievements of Vietnamese sport are very encouraging, creating momentum for the race to the continental level in the future.

In other sports, the national flag of Vietnam has also been raised to the highest position a number of times in both the world and continental arena. It would be a shortcoming to skip the proud achievements of weightlifter Thach Kim Tuan, who shone with three gold medals at the IWF World Championships, as well as weightlifters Nguyen Tran Anh Tuan and Ly Quang Vinh with four golds at the Asian Youth Championships, and gymnast Le Thanh Tung with the men’s vault title at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships. Together with the 12 gold medals claimed by Vietnam’s taekwondo team at the Southeast Asian Championships, female artist Truong Thi Kim Tuyen brought home a historic silver medal for Vietnam at the second stage of the Taekwondo Grand Prix 2017, which gathered many of the world’s leading fighters. Vietnamese chess also enjoyed a successful year, with resounding victories attained by young players at the Asian and world competitions, especially female player Vo Thi Kim Phung. After taking the standard chess crown at the Asian Continental Chess Championships in China, Phung continued to beat many of the world’s chess grandmasters to win the women’s table at the London Chess Classic 2017. Nguyen Anh Khoi is the second promising young player who has contributed to glorifying Vietnamese chess in the past year. The 15-year-old brilliantly completed a double of gold medals in the boys’ U16 age group at the World Youth U14, U16, U18 Rapid & Blitz Chess Championships 2017.

Vietnamese football also saw many positive changes this year, with a more dramatic and professional V-League season. Although Vietnam U22s unexpectedly went out in the group stage of the 29th SEA Games, the women’s national team was crowned the SEA Games champions in a convincing fashion, and the country’s youth football continued to show off their ability. Most impressively, Vietnam U15s made their way through to the final match following a winning streak before ousting Thailand U15s right on their home turf to claim the overall championships title. Most recently, after years of waiting, Vietnam U23s enjoyed a victory over their Thai opponents at the M-150 Cup international U23 friendly tournament in Thailand. Earlier, with the goalless draw against U20 New Zealand at the World U20 Championship 2017, U20 Vietnam made history as the first Southeast Asian team to secure a point at the world-class playground.

The success of Vietnamese sport in the regional, continental and world arenas, focused on Olympic events, has demonstrated the correct orientation of the national sports industry, with investment poured in strengthening Vietnamese athletes’ performance in key sports, and mitigating the use of the number of medals as a measurement. The selection of young promising athletes and the arrangement of overseas training for them have helped to supplement the successive forces in a timely fashion. It can be said that the combination between promising young athletes and experienced athletes have accounted for the historic victories of Vietnamese sport throughout 2017.

Trying to overcome itself

Alongside its significant achievements in the past year, Vietnamese sport has also posed a lot of weaknesses, inadequacies and limitations.

At the 29th SEA Games, besides the objective factors, such as the favourtism of the referees, some of Vietnam’s highly anticipated teams and athletes failed to live up to their expectations. Reigning Olympic champion, Hoang Xuan Vinh, caused great disappointment after performing unsuccessfully in both of his favourite events, the 10m air pistol and 50m slow-fire pistol, and only managing a silver medal. Vinh’s failure was accompanied by the pain of Vietnam U22s, who unexpectedly went out in the group stage despite receiving a lot of incentives, in terms of financial funding and training conditions. The poor result is not only due to tactical mistakes and individual mistakes of a football team, but it is also the obvious fate of an unprofessional football industry with multiple instabilities and negatives. In addition, the shooting, archery and taekwondo teams did not complete their set targets. Those failures need to be analysed in order to draw the necessary lessons, because these are the teams and the athletes who were provided with favourable training conditions and once achieved good results at international competitions prior to the SEA Games.

Even, that Vietnam surpassed other sporting powers like Japan on the overall AIMAG 2017 rankings is also something more troubling than encouraging, as that achievement may possibly make the country’s athletes complacent about what they obtained only against the reserve athletes and second-class (or even third-class) who were sent by other countries for the purpose of a friendly competition. The large scale of the Vietnamese sports delegation, with the presence of leading athletes, somehow shows that the achievement-favouring disease is still so serious in the management mindset, alongside the wastefulness and ineffectiveness in the use of investment capital for sports development.

There are many reasons for weaknesses and failures, including a lack of effective mechanisms and policies that could encourage the participation of non-State sources in sports development, and a lack of a highly professional training strategy in order to create sustainable miracles. It is necessary for the sports sector to carefully adjust and calculate resources, whilst avoiding overdiversified investment and putting long-term investment in favourite sports and young talents, towards the Asian and Olympic arenas.