Improving Vietnam’s position on regional and world sporting arenas

Tuesday, 2017-05-09 10:20:08
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Nguyen Thi Thanh Phuc gained gold medal in the women's marathons event at the 28th SEA Games.
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NDO – The first-ever Olympic gold medal gained by top shooter Hoang Xuan Vinh has opened up new hopes for Vietnamese sports on regional and world arenas. However, due to a limited budget facilitating professional investment for athletes to compete in big tournaments, the country’s sporting sector has only focused on seeking achievements at SEA Games, a small-scale regional playground.

The Southeast Asian Games Federation (SEAGF) selects the number of games at SEA Games, based on the host's registration. According to the SEAGF rules, SEA Games must have a minimum of 22 sports which are divided into three categories including compulsory groups (athletics and water sports); the group of events under Olympic and ASIAD competition system; and the group of sports proposed by the host.

Since 2016, SEAGF has held numerous seminars for countries in the region to discuss building the model of SEA Games as a miniature Olympic Games. Accordingly, professionalism must be advanced and basic sports need to be competed in compliance with all standards. Sport lovers and professionals in the Southeast Asia region have traditionally considered SEA Games as a ‘local pond’ tournament and a ‘low land’ of the continental sports. The world ‘local pond’ implies that the hosts always select sports they predominate for competition and discard disciplines and contents in the superiority of the guests (whether or not they are basic sports of the Olympics), aiming to achieve the most gold medals.

Therefore, in each year of the SEA Games, there have been strange sports that were only popular in the host country such as chinlone – a traditional sport in Myanmar that is similar to sepaktakraw, and Indonesia’s traditional chess.

For example, at the 28th SEA Games in 2015, the host Singapore eliminated weightlifting, wrestling and karate; meanwhile at the 2009 and 2013 SEA Games, gymnastics was not included in sports for competition because it was not a strength of the host country. The 29th SEA Games will be held in Malaysia this year with 405 categories of 38 sports, with the host eliminating and limiting many contents of Olympic sports. For example, weightlifting and boxing will be restricted to men’s events only. In several meetings before agreeing on the official events, the host reported that marathons and walking events had also been also cut. However, due to the reaction of the participating countries and the voice of the Asian Athletics Federation, the organising board agreed to retain all athletic events with 46 sets of medals.

Sporting expert Nguyen Hong Minh, former Director of the High-Performance Sports Department under the General Department of Sports and Physical Training, shared that “the Vietnamese sporting sector should have a consistent view on the organisation of SEA Games. If possible, we need to contribute to changing the rules of SEAGF in order to make SEA Games become a competition of Olympic sports as well as enhance investment for athletes”. The host countries should be willing to accept failures in some sports or even losing their top three positions at the SEA Games as well as consider the progress of the athletes at Olympics contents as the greatest success, he added.

From 2005 to 2015, Vietnam has consistently ranked among the top three countries in the medal tally. However, when competing at the Asian Games (ASIAD), Vietnamese athletes struggled to gain gold medals, even at times failing to secure any medals at all. For example, they brought home three gold medals at the 2006 ASIAD and only one at the 2010 and 2014 events.

Deputy General Director of Sports and Physical Training Tran Duc Phan, who is also head of the Vietnamese sports delegation participating in the 2017 SEA Games, said: “Vietnam registered 26 sports this year. We set a target of gaining medals for Olympic sports. The State’s investment and sports sector for athletes and coaches will be promoted as much as possible”. In addition, he affirmed that the achievement of ranking among the top three countries was still the common goal of the Vietnamese delegation.

In terms of medal achievements in continental and Southeast Asian arenas, Thailand dominated the top position. For example, Vietnam gained only one gold medal at the 2014 ASIAD, while Thailand gained 12 gold medals to rank sixth in the region. Malaysia and Indonesia had always claimed the top three at SEA Games along with Vietnam, but they gained better achievements with five and four gold medals respectively. Even countries with fewer SEA Games gold medals than Vietnam, including Singapore and Myanmar, have also bagged more achievements. At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Thailand (with two gold, two silver and two bronze medals) and Indonesia (with one gold and two silver medals) stood at the higher position on the ranking table.

Thanks to the mobilisation of all resources, Vietnam has continuously been among the top three countries at SEA Games in recent times, even holding the lead when hosting the 2013 event. However, in terms of performances in Asia and the world arenas, Vietnam has not ranked in the top three in Southeast Asia for a long time. While the leading countries in the region have set out specific strategies to develop high performance sports, Vietnam is yet to do so. Thailand developed sepatakraw as a key sport at ASIAD (gaining four gold medals), along with cycling, sailing, tennis, golf and boxing. In addition, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore promoted their strengths in badminton, boxing and swimming, respectively; meanwhile Vietnam has not selected a sport with core strength to make long-term investment in. Vietnam had gained numerous gold medals in taekwondo and weightlifting at Olympic Games, but recently these sports have lagged behind due to inadequate investment, particularly taekwondo. Shooting star Hoang Xuan Vinh maintained his successes thanks to training courses in foreign countries as domestic training conditions were unable to meet international standards.

In addition to difficulties in choosing a sport of strength, the lack of concentrated funds for training athletes has also led to the weakness of the Vietnamese sporting sector. It is very difficult to find young sporting talents because sport is not a career with high income in Vietnam. Therefore, it is imperative to set out solutions to enhance investment in Olympic sports, particularly those Vietnam has strength in, as well as pay much attention to rationally providing and allocating funds for training work.