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The SEA Games Is a Mess. Filipinos Are Stepping In to Save It.

They’re taking matters into their own hands.
workers at the 2019 sea games
Workers walk past ASEAN members' flags next to the Aquatic centre in New Clark City, a SEA Games venue. For illustrative purposes only. Photo by Ted Aljibe / AFP. 

The Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) is meant to bring countries in the region together, but recent reports seem to have divided citizens of host country, the Philippines, instead.

News of delayed transportation services, subpar accommodations, and mismanaged funds have led many to call it “Fyre Festival 2.0.” Emerging from all these screwups, though, is a sense of volunteerism from some Filipinos who are sick of complaining online. Some have taken it upon themselves to solve problems, taking over where the government obviously failed.


Transportation and logistics

Transportation is a huge issue. On Saturday, Timor Leste’s men’s football team had to wait for three hours at the airport for the bus service to their hotel, only to be taken to the wrong place. Thailand’s men’s football team, on the other hand, was stuck in traffic for two hours. Photos of Myanmar’s men’s football team cramped in a minibus have also gone viral.

To help ease the situation, Ceres Bus line, which owns the country’s top football team, said on Tuesday that it is offering 18 of its newest buses to service teams to and from their matches.

Leo Rey Yanson, president of Vallacar Transit Inc. (VTI), the company that owns Ceres Bus, did the same after similar transportation complaints in 2005, the last time the Philippines hosted the SEA Games.

Practice locations were also an issue. The Thai men’s football team was set to practice in the province of Laguna, two hours away from their hotel, so their coach chose to delay practice by a day, after their experience with traffic. To help the teams out, Southridge School in Alabang, which is an hour closer to their accommodations, opened its artificial pitch as a practice venue.

“Right now, we just have to help each other and also support our athletes,” Philippine Football Federation President Mariano “Nonong” Araneta said.


The coach of the Philippines’ women’s football team earlier claimed that they were only served rice, egg, and the street food kikiam. While their hotel has since released a statement, saying that it served chicken sausage and not kikiam, and that the meat was part of a buffet, the coach's complaint was enough to spark concerns.

The PFF has said that it will start distributing a food fund for its players. “Even the parents of some of the players are helping out in making sure that we get enough food for the women’s team,” Araneta said.


The Singaporean men’s football, netball, and floorball teams have also complained about the limited halal food options available. The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) said that SEA Games organisers ignored their warning that this would happen. They are now offering their assistance once again.

“We are doing this not just because we are in government but as a Muslim obligation,” NCMF executive director Tahir S. Lidasan, Jr. told ABS-CBN News.

Other countries participating in the event who have fielded Muslim athletes are Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia.


The Cambodian men’s football team resorted to sleeping on the floor of a conference room, where they were made to wait for their hotel rooms. The incident went viral, which led to associations in the hospitality industry to step in and help with arrivals and bookings.

Hotel Sales and Marketing Association Inc. (HSMA) President Christine U. Ibarreta told the Business Mirror that she has contacted members of tourism associations, instructing them to ensure that athletes are given the best service.

Unable to stomach the criticism the country is getting for the SEA Games fiasco, she said: “we [hotels] work so hard in inviting tourists to come here….So I wanted to get to the bottom of these [issues].”

Ibarreta said the hotels “will extend whatever courtesies we can without breaking the bank. Like we can allow late checkouts, provide entertainment, etc.; just to emphasise the fun [here in the Philippines]. Just be extra nice to them [the athletes], and provide the Mabuhay (a Filipino greeting) service.”


Online Movement

Some individuals are also trying to stay positive by doing what they can to assist through online platforms. Twitter user @theladysea, said “Some volunteers of the 2019 SEA Games do not have food and accommodation. Please send me a DM if you know or you are a SEA Games volunteer. We are willing to help!”

Local musician Jim Paredes also chimed in on his Twitter, relaying a message from the NGO Kaya Natin, saying, “If anyone has contacts to the head of the volunteers for SEA games, please let us know. We really want to help.”

The SEA Games opening ceremony is on Saturday, November 30. It will run until Wednesday, December 11.

Update 11/28/19: This story has been updated to reflect the hotel's reply regarding the food that was served.

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