Vietnamese sport in 2016: Flourishing but not so optimistic

Monday, 2017-01-02 13:15:49
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Vietnamese players celebrated after securing a place in the 2016 FIFA Futsal World Cup.
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NDO – Vietnamese sport experienced a fruitful year in 2016 with a lot of landmark achievements gained by Vietnamese athletes at the continental, world and Olympic competitions. However, alongside the triumphs, there still remain worries and concerns over the shortcomings and stagnations that have led to the national sporting sector remaining sub-par.

>>> Vietnam’s Top 10 sporting events in 2016

A fruitful year

It is no exaggeration to say that 2016 was a year of significant sporting accomplishments for Vietnam. For the first time in history, Vietnamese athletes took gold medals and broke records at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. All 22 Vietnamese Olympians secured official tickets to the world’s largest sporting event (meeting Olympic standards), of whom none qualified through wild cards as seen previously. The image of veteran shooter Hoang Xuan Vinh competing at the Rio shooting range and taking the gold medal with a record number of points in the men’s 10m air pistol event has become a landmark in the history of national sports. The achievement has made him the first Vietnamese and Southeast Asian marksman to be crowned as an Olympic champion. Inspired by the 10m air pistol success, Vinh went on to excel in the 50m slow fire pistol discipline, picking up a silver medal, just behind Jin Jong Oh from the Republic of Korea. With Vinh’s exceptional performance, Vietnam climbed to 48th position among the 87 medal-winning delegations in Rio and joined the group of nine countries securing Olympic gold for the first time.

Right after the Olympic success, the Vietnamese national flag continued to fly high at the Paralympic competition thanks to a commendable achievement in the men’s 49kg category secured by powerlifter Le Van Cong, who won a historic gold for Vietnam and broke both the world and Paralympic records with a lift of 183kg. Cong’s success became a source of inspiration for his teammates driving them on to secure another silver medal in the men’s 50m freestyle-S5 by swimmer Vo Thanh Tung and two bronze medals by female powerlifter Dang Thi Linh Phuong in the 50kg weight class and javelin thrower Cao Ngoc Hung in the men’s F57 disability category. By breaking into the group of countries with Olympic and Paralympic gold medals, the two Vietnamese delegations exceeded the targets set prior to their departure for Brazil and excelled beyond expectations of leaders of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the General Department of Sports and Physical Training.

A month after the successful Rio campaign, Vietnamese sport went on to secure an abundance of gold medals at the fifth Asian Beach Games 2016 (ABG 5), held in the central coastal city of Da Nang. The host delegation reigned over the medal tally with 52 golds, 44 silvers and 43 bronzes, far trespassing runner-up Thailand with 36 golds, 24 silvers and 30 bronzes. Objectively speaking, never before has Vietnam won so many gold medals at a continental-level Games like the ABG 5.

In other sports, Vietnam’s national anthem was also played a number of times in the world and continental arenas as the country’s athletes took the top honour, with gold medals secured by gymnasts Nguyen Tuan Dat and Dinh Phuong Thanh at the Szombathely World Challenge Cup 2016 in Hungary; bodybuilders Nguyen Anh Thong and Vu Anh Nhat Thuy Khanh Khuong at the 2016 World Championships in Thailand; the taekwondo team at the 10th WTF World Taekwondo Poomsae Championships in Lima, Peru; and weightlifter Le Nguyen Quoc Bao at the 2016 World Youth Championships in Malaysia. In particular, top Vietnamese swimmer Nguyen Thi Anh Vien won gold and set a new record in the women’s 400m medley event at the 10th Asian Swimming Championships in Tokyo, Japan, while Nguyen Thi Mai Hung won the women’s blitz chess category and grandmaster Le Quang Liem bagged two silver medals in the men’s standard and blitz chess disciplines at the 2016 Asian Individual Championships in Uzbekistan, both securing berths in the 2017 World Chess Championships.

What should be recognised in 2016 were the positive transformations of Vietnamese football. Faith has returned inside each player and in the hearts of home fans with hopes lit up for a self-reliance mindset to develop football, believing in the potentials of the national football. Despite the failure of the national team at the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup, Vietnam’s U19 and futsal teams performed very impressively with both securing berths in the FIFA World Cup. The national futsal squad realised Vietnam’s World Cup dream in a very convincing fashion as they beat powerhouses Japan in the quarterfinals of the 2016 AFC Futsal Championship on February 17, thereby booking a slot in the semifinals and securing an official ticket to the 2016 Futsal World Cup. Eight months later, U-19 Vietnam repeated the same miracle, making it through to the semifinals of the 2016 AFC U-19 Championship in Bahrain and becoming one of the four AFC representatives at the upcoming 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup, scheduled to take place in the Republic of Korea.

However, the 2016 picture of Vietnamese sport was not totally “rosy” but also “grey” as well. At the Rio Olympic Games, alongside the brilliant performance of the shooting team, most of Vietnamese qualified athletes did not live up to expectations. Weightlifter Thach Kim Tuan, one of the country’s biggest medal hopes, failed abysmally, while other anticipated stars, including Nguyen Thi Anh Vien (swimming), Pham Phuoc Hung (gymnastics) and Nguyen Thi Huyen (athletics) also could not fulfill the task of “overcoming themselves” at the world’s largest sporting event. Even Vietnam’s reign over the Asian Beach Games medal tally does not count for much as most countries only see the event as an opportunity to promote the image of the country and promote tourism rather than viewing it as a real sports competition for achievements.

The same scenario was seen in football. Despite having a lot of incentives concerning both financial support and training conditions, the men’s national football team failed to meet home fans’ expectations suffering a bitter loss against Indonesia in the semifinals of the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup – an evident result for a football background full of uncertainties, poor sportsmanship and violence, manifested through a fierce 2016 V-League season with limited attention from both sponsors and spectators, and even a declining trend in the number of spectators present at stadiums for matches. This might be the most accurate measure of the V-League’s expertise quality, showing numerous difficulties for Vietnamese football to open a new page and offering an explanation as to why Vietnam has yet to achieve the anticipated success at both the club-level and national team-level competitions over recent times.

A large number of reasons could be listed for those weaknesses and failures, including moderate capabilities of sports management agencies, inadequate sports policies and mechanisms, limited funding for sports and insufficient training efforts of each athlete. This has pointed out the necessity for Vietnam’s sporting sector to devise a professional and long-term investment strategy for sports development, aimed at creating sustainable victories.

Challenges ahead

Vietnamese sport has been faced with numerous difficulties and challenges to continue conquering new victories in a steady and sustainable fashion, which requires a scientific and professional sports management style close to reality with specific immediate and long-term missions on the basis of open and intensive training. In addition to seeking new ways to draw investment from non-State funding sources, it is time to make thorough and careful adjustments and calculations of resources, with a long-term focus on sports and events of strength and key athletes with high medal-winning possibility, towards the continental and Olympic arenas. The sports sector has already identified the key events for prioritised investment; however, they are not really adequate nor accurate, requiring timely adjustments to avoid wastefulness. There is not a lot of hope for an increased budget for sports in the context of the country’s economic difficulties, but there needs to be a target training programme for each sporting event towards the Games such as the Asian Games, Olympics or Paralympics, and even a private training plan for each event and each athlete in order to form special training solutions in line with international standards. Also, efforts should be made to take advantage of non-State funding sources and build a solid background for school sports and other mass sports movements to discover new talents.

A factor to be further researched for the face-lift of the sports sector is the issuance of special mechanisms and policies for brilliant athletes and trainers, focusing on policies relating to wage, insurance, injury treatment, accommodation, scholarship subsidies and vocational training for athletes, and the mechanisms needed to mobilise outstanding overseas Vietnamese sports talents to compete for the national teams. As for athletes with disabilities, following the Rio Paralympic success, there is a strong expectation that the sporting sector will build mechanisms and consult the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and relevant agencies to improve compensation and benefits for disabled athletes, including the allowances and remuneration.

Concerning football, in preparation for the 2017 season, the Vietnam Football Federation (VFF) will revise and supplement discipline regulations towards intensifying punishment for violent and offensive infringements during football matches. The VFF has already requested its referee board build a training programme for referees and supervisors for the new season, seeking to resolutely apply competition rules while regulating matches, aiming to create a sense of strict adherence to the rules among players. The federation is also researching solutions to enhance the expertise quality of professional matches and improve competition infrastructure and modes of competition for youth tournaments. Particularly, futsal and women’s football will be maintained towards increasing the number of matches, aimed at providing more opportunities for players to gain experience and sharpen their skills.

Based on lessons of experience taken from the preparation process and competition at the Rio Olympics and other tournaments, it can be seen that the process of training professional athletes in Vietnam needs to be fine-tuned, with special care given to the application of scientific solutions on expertise, biomedicine, psychology-education, recovery, nutrition, techniques, management and information technology in training work, training and improving physical strength for athletes. These are also the eight ministry-level research topics proposed by the General Department of Sports and Physical Training, which were examined and given approval in late 2016.