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As a precursor, right after the 2017 SEA Games competition programme, including 38 sports and 403 events, was finalised, all delegations, excluding hosts Malaysia, were shocked by the cutting of half of the events compared to the previous edition in Singapore. Many of Vietnam’s sports of strength, including the two “gold mines” rowing and wrestling, were removed from the upcoming Games; meanwhile, two other sports of strength, including fencing and women’s football, along with a number of favourite disciplines of shooting and athletics were supplemented at the last minute.
As for the abovementioned reality, it can be said that Vietnam has been “robbed” of about 20 gold medals, which will make it difficult for the country to realise its goal of safeguarding its place in the top three of the medal tally, an achievement constantly maintained by Vietnam since the 2003 SEA Games.
However, at this moment, Vietnamese sport demonstrated a strong transformation, which could even be considered a win against itself, immediately in its perception of the Games. Instead of seeking ways to benefit through “competitions on the conference table”, those responsible welcomed the “familiar reality” in a calm and proactive manner. In addition to affirming that the top-three place would no longer a compulsory target, leaders of the sports sector specified that Vietnamese sport would not even attach importance to the medal ranking at the SEA Games, but only focus optimal resources on preparation and the results of Olympic sports and events, including shooting, athletics, swimming, fencing and gymnastics, among others.
As assessed by experts, this is a strategic change, which was outlined, manifested and accumulated from the two previous SEA Games before seeing real breakthroughs with a “hitch” created by shooter Hoang Xuan Vinh at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
Despite still competing with determination and efforts to win the highest possible results, the sports sector has taken into account the scenario of Vietnam being knocked out of the top three at the 2017 SEA Games. The key tasks set for this “SEA Games year” is to focus on preparing for the 2018 Asian Games and the 2020 Olympic Games, and the regional sporting event in Malaysia will only function as a rehearsal session for the continental and world competition.
At present, the sports sector has already formed plans for a number of key events as well as selected outstanding athletes for special investment with the minimum criteria of being able to vie for Asian Games medals or secure official Olympic berths. Shooting, weightlifting and karate, which will make Olympic debut in the 2020 Tokyo Games, have been identified as three leading “spearheads”.
After a long time of struggling, the sports sector has finally defined the right position of the SEA Games just as a stepping stone for the two key goals, the Asian Games and the Olympic Games.
The slogan of “surpassing the SEA Games, approaching the Asian level and strongly breaking into the Olympic arena” will no longer be a vague one any more. However, in order to make that slogan come true, there remains a lot of radical and long-term work for the sports sector to finalise, including the building of development schemes, generation of funding sources, renovation of infrastructure and promotion of movements.
Numerous internal hindrances are also waiting to be addressed, such as the story of benefits and investment resources among dozens of sports in the system, serious “metastases” of the achievement disease, or the SEA Games-like seasonal way of thinking and acting that has lasted for decades.
All those problems need a certain amount of time to be resolved, together with a specific roadmap and strong determination. Even so, there is always a need for first steps. An important issue that needs to be focused on by the sports sector, both immediately and in the long term, is to continue seeking innovative ways in the process of selecting and training sport talents, particularly in the Olympic and Asian Games sports and disciplines.
With the examples of success for Vietnam such as shooter Hoang Xuan Vinh or swimmer Nguyen Thi Anh Vien, there is no doubt about Vietnamese sport’s ability to “renew the old path”.
Deputy Director of the General Department of Sports and Physical Training Tran Duc Phan:
“We will not make an over diversified investment but give special priority to the key sports and events as well as the athletes shouldering the responsibility of competing for Olympic and Asian Games medals. They will enjoy private wages, nutrition, medicine and training equipment”.