A strategic vision needed for Vietnamese sports

Wednesday, 2018-12-26 18:02:37
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The success of football teams at international tournaments is the brightest spot in the panorama of Vietnamese sports in 2018.
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NDO – Owing to continuous reforms in football and focused investments, particularly in Olympic events, Vietnamese sports have achieved significant breakthroughs in 2018, with a lot of high results reaped by Vietnamese athletes at both domestic and international arenas. However, there still remain many limitations and difficulties, requiring the country’s sports sector to take a strategic and long-term vision to develop sustainably and conquer new peaks of performance.

Breakthroughs and challenges

Football kick-started an animated year for Vietnamese sports, as the U23 squad finished as the runners-up at the AFC U23 Championship in China. The flame of faith was ignited by the young players at the beginning of the year with an arduous and glorious journey, during which they alternately overcame strong rivals from the continent to reach the decisive final. Such a historic feat was followed by the conquest of Vietnam’s Olympic team, who made the last four at the Asian Games (Asiad) in Indonesia with a lineup mainly made up of U23 players. The glorious journey of the “Golden Dragons” only concluded when they stepped onto the top podium of the AFF Suzuki Cup in style after ten years of waiting. Coached by Park Hang-seo, a talented Republic of Korea trainer, the Vietnamese played on a par with the continental powerhouses and demonstrated their superiority in the region with stable form and a resilient fighting spirit. The victory of Vietnam’s Olympic team against the Japaneses at the 2018 Asian Games drove the expertise circle to think of the emergence of a new formidable football force. This view continued to be affirmed at the 2018 AFF Cup, as Park’s side were crowned the overall champions in a convincing fashion, maintaining an amazing unbeaten streak (six wins and two draws), scoring 15 goals and only conceding four times.

Those triumphs have created great confidence among Vietnam’s sports officials, players and fans, consolidating the faith in a bright future of rising to approach the continental level for home football. It is not an immediate mutation but the result of an entire process of training to generate a generation of quality young players flying high under the leadership of talented and enthusiastic Park Hang-seo, who has made wise substitutions in each match and knows how to inspire his players. Football fans in the region and the continent, as well as international media and experts, have expressed their admiration and amazement at the remarkable progress and significant achievements of Vietnamese football, stating that teamwork, effective attacking, solid defence and stable form are the indications that Vietnam deserved to rank high in the tournaments over the past year.

In addition to the outstanding results of the football teams, Vietnamese sports also attained new successes at the 2018 Asiad. With 352 athletes competing in 32 sport events, the Vietnamese delegation completed the envisaged tasks, bringing home four gold, 17 silver and 18 bronze medals – the highest achievement in Vietnam’s Asiad participation history. Worth mentioning are the titles won in the two Olympic sports of athletics and rowing by Bui Thi Thu Thao (long jump), and Luong Thi Thao, Ho Thi Ly, Ta Thanh Huyen and Pham Thi Thao (women’s lightweight quadruple sculls). Moreover, the men’s 1,500m freestyle silver medal of 18-year-old Nguyen Huy Hoang and the victory of the Vietnam men’s volleyball team against powerhouses China are also prideworthy milestones set by Vietnamese athletes at the largest continental sporting playground.

The aforementioned successes have stemmed from the efforts of athletes as well as the preparations and investments of the General Department of Sports and Physical Training, alongside the localities and sectors with participating athletes. Ahead of the Games, more than 400 Vietnamese athletes convened training at five domestic training centres. Many teams and athletes capable of winning medals were offered overseas training courses in countries with advanced sports and favourable training conditions, such as the United States, China, Japan, and the RoK. Vietnam also recruited and hired 15 highly qualified experts to guide training in certain key sports, namely athletics, shooting, karate, wushu, cycling and archery.

Long jumper Bui Thi Thu Thao wins a valuable gold medal for Vietnam at the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.

Along with the preparation process for the 2018 Asiad, localities and sectors nationwide actively organised many grassroot sports games, particularly the eighth National Games. During a period of nearly one month, over 7,000 athletes battled it out for medals in 734 disciplines in 36 sports, with 43 national records and 169 Games records having been established. Particularly, the majority of records were broken in Olympic sports, such as athletics, archery, shooting, swimming, diving and weightlifting, demonstrating the focused investment of the sports sector in a number of key events instead of overdiversified investment.

However, Vietnamese sports still face limitations and multiple challenges. While the young and national football teams are making great progress, the domestic professional football tournaments, especially the V-League, have yet to achieve the necessary transformation. Negative acts and mistakes in running the tournament, improper responses and on-field violence still proceeded throughout the season, causing much annoyance among fans. At the 2018 Asiad, a number of athletes, who received key investment, did not live up to expectation, with Olympic champion Hoang Xuan Vinh failing to reach the final of his favourite 10m air pistol event, swimming star Nguyen Thi Anh Vien returning home empty-handed, and top weightlifter Thach Kim Tuan only managing to win a silver medal. Even with the four gold medals won by the Vietnamese delegation, there were two in pencak silat, which was included in the competition programme by the host country Indonesia and will not appear in the next Games. It can be said that these are warnings showing the shortcomings in Vietnam’s investment in high-performance sport training, which stem from the lack of funding and the lack of modern training facilities for athletes.

Maintaining path towards sustainable development

Clearly planning the development strategies for football and key sports, and training the successive team of athletes are of decisive significance to the success or failure of Vietnamese sports in the future. As shown by the reality, the fruitfulness of Vietnamese football in the past year has stemmed from the professional investment in youth football, in addition to the creation of favourable conditions in terms of overseas training, hiring qualified trainers, application of modern technologies in training, nutrition, wages and bonuses.

After both its gains and shortcomings so far this year, Vietnam’s sport sector is currently in need of a strategic and long-term vision aiming towards the major sports games and tournaments of the region, the continent and the world, with the focus on preparing the subsequent generations of young athletes and strengthening investment in Olympic events. It must be annual, 10-year and above strategies, instead of the situational, immediate and short-term ones. The system of selecting talented athletes must be truly professional and should be expanded from the central to local levels, ensuring the early search and detection of young talents and the provision of organised and scientific training from their early age, thereby helping to strengthen their fitness quality and technique acquision ability.

At the moment, the sports sector should coordinate with localities to review forces and sort out the strong events and disciplines to make key investments, with priority given to Olympic sports. Efforts need to be accelerated to mobilise available and non-state resources to serve the athletes’ overseas training and international competition to improve their performances. The policies to attract talents and renumeration incentives for them should also receive special attention, thus helping improve the athletes’ lives and making them feel assured to sacrifice themselves to national sports.

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