Main venue for SEA Games in November mostly complete, say Philippine officials

CAPAS (Tarlac) – The main venue for this year’s SEA Games is nearly complete, and will be ready to receive athletes next month, in time for the opening ceremonies in November, Philippine officials said on Friday (July 19).

“Right now, we can tell you with utmost certainty that all these facilities will be finished and way ahead of schedule,” Mr Vince Dizon, president of the state-run Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), said in a news briefing.

With that, he said, the SEA Games will proceed as scheduled (Nov 30 to Dec 11), dousing speculation that the biennial event may have to be moved to next year due to disagreements among sports officials here.

The BCDA oversees the 9,450ha New Clark City, where the SEA Games will be held. Clark, a former US military base, is about a two-hour drive north of the capital Manila.

Mr Patrick Nicholas David, president of MTD Philippines, told reporters the Athletic Stadium and the Aquatics Centre which will be used at Clark were “about 90 per cent complete”.

MTD is building the 13 billion-peso (S$350 million) sports hub at Clark, under a 25-year build-lease-transfer agreement.

A media tour showed the 20,000-seat Athletic Stadium, with its 400m, nine-lane track, nearly finished.

But construction works were still ongoing at the Aquatic Centre, where all the swimming events will take place.

About half the 2,000 seats had yet to be installed. The walls and floors were still mostly bare cement. Plastic pipes were sticking out from the floor. The diving boards had yet to arrive, and scaffolding was everywhere.

The buildings housing the rooms where most of the athletes would stay were already standing. But workers were still installing fixtures, and the rooms had yet to be furnished.

At least 3,000 athletes are expected to stay at Clark. They will be competing in about 100 events in athletics and swimming.

Most of the roads were still unpaved, and the grounds still bare.

Mr David said the pools should be ready by the first week of next month, and swimmers and divers would be able to try these out by Aug 15.

“We’re right now trying to make sure there’s enough water pressure, there are no leaks, the lights are working, the timing system works properly,” he said.

The Athletes’ Village would be ready for occupancy by end-August, he said.

He said some 8,000 builders were working round-the-clock, seven days a week.

“We’re just putting in the finishing touches, and doing some testing and commissioning. The equipment will be here on time,” he said.

Mr Dizon said a new six-lane road connecting Clark’s airport to the main sports venue should be finished by September.

Construction of the Athletic Stadium and Aquatic Centre began in March last year.

Singapore consulting firm Surbana Jurong helped design these facilities, modelling the stadium after the Singapore Sports Hub.

Mr David said his company had half the time it normally took to build a hub for an international sporting event.

“Everything was rushed. But we have timed it and programmed it, so that we will finish ahead of schedule,” he said.

Asked if the rush job could lead to shabby workmanship, Mr Dizon said: “You can hold the Olympics here, if you wanted.”

There have been talks that the SEA Games would have to be moved to next year due to squabbles within the Philippine Olympic Committee over allegations that the private group tasked to organise the event entered into questionable deals, including purchasing overpriced uniforms and training gear.

Philippine Sports Commission chief William Ramirez said last month that President Rodrigo Duterte had instructed him to make sure preparations were on track for the SEA Games in November.

“The president is aware of the issues, but directed us to keep our focus on the athletes, and let the others sort out their issues within their ranks,” he said.

The SEA Games will have 57 sports, the most in its history. This year’s edition will be the first to recognise computer gaming as an actual sport.

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