23rd Southeast Asian Games officially begins November 27

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Philippines will host the 23rd edition of the Southeast Asian Games starting Sunday. The host nation is not just hoping to gain the overall championship, but also seeking to boost its tourism industry. With the venues of the Games spread around the tropical country, officials were taking advantage of the 10-day sporting event to showcase some of the Philippines' best tourist destinations. Some events will be held in the cities of Bacolod and Cebu, and suburbs near Metro Manila. It is also for the first time in the history of the Southeast Asian Games, the opening ceremony will be held in an open-air park instead of in a stadium. Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, will lead the nation in welcoming more than 7,000 athletes, officials and members of the participating countries – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, East Timor, Vietnam and the host.

Cebu opened the 23rd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games yesterday with pomp and pageantry. The SEA Games welcome ceremony, served as the "appetizer" for the formal opening in Manila.

Security is tight with a 17,000-strong police force on alert to ensure the safety of the thousands of athletes and officials taking part, amid the threat of possible attacks by militants.

The government is also determined to impose a strict smoking ban throughout the duration of 23rd Southeast Asian Games. No one will be allowed to smoke within a 50-meter radius from venues in Metro Manila, Bacolod City, Cebu City, the Subic freeport in Zambales province, Angeles City in Pampanga province, Tagaytay in Cavite province, and Los Baños and Calamba in Laguna province. The ban also covers any form of advertisement of tobacco companies.

A total of 41 events, 441 gold medals are up for grabs, with the Philippine martial art arnis as well as ballroom dancing making their debuts.

The basketball event was cancelled after a dispute involving the Philippines Olympic Council (POC) and Basketball Association of Philippines (BAP), which saw the former expelling the latter. POC and BAP were later embroiled in a court case, which apparently ruled in favour of BAP's reinstatement.

In an unexpected move, representatives of the Philippines' largest Muslim separatist group will attend the opening of the SEA Games as a "goodwill measure", a rebel spokesman said yesterday.

Eid Kabalu, spokesman for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said he and four other rebel officials would attend the event to show his group's sincerity in seeking peace in the strife-torn southern region of Mindanao.

However, in the capital, there are hardly any banners to herald the 23rd SEA Games. There is no excitement and even the mascot, the eagle, is nowhere in sight. Inconvenienced and incensed by the treatment, the ten visiting countries blasted hosts Philippines for poor arrangements before the start of the 23rd SEA Games.