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SEA Games attract crowds and criticism
Publication Date : 18-12-2013
Public interest in the 27th Southeast Asian Games has grown since Myanmar put on a grandiose display at the opening ceremony in the capital Nay Pyi Taw on December 11.
Since the fireworks and lavish light and sound show captured the attention of local and international audiences, there has also been much criticism over the organisation of the Games.
Many of the events are being held in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar's administrative capital, which is notoriously difficult to get around and where public transport is scarce. Aung Soe, a teacher from Naungcho, Shan State, travelled all the way to Nay Pyi Taw to support the volleyball team but found that the stadium was too far away.
"Zeyar Thiri Stadium, where the volleyball competition is held, is too far away so I couldn’t go there. As I’m working as a teacher at orphanages, I have to go back home even though I still want to cheer for other sports competitions," he said Aung Soe.
Thousands of Myanmar fans have also flocked to Nay Pyi Taw only to be met with exuberant hotel prices, lack of public transport and having to trek enormous distances between ticket offices and the sports venues.
"There were difficulties in coming to watch the competitions. These include waiting in line for the tickets, far location of the stadiums, lack of buses. However, it is true that this event is very fun. I couldn’t come to watch everyday due to high expenses," said Zaw Min Aung from Pyinmana in Mandalay Region.
Over 9,000 people participated in the opening ceremony at the Wunna Theikdi Stadium and the government spent billions of kyats for the firework display and hi-tech entertainment systems. However, many still could not afford to watch the event live and had to watch it on television.
"I only got to watch the grand opening of the SEA Games from the television. At first, I didn’t expect the government to hold such a spectacular ceremony. It was a pretty big ceremony and it seemed that the government has spent a lot of money for this. Whatever it is, we won’t lose our face among the international community," said a teacher from Yangon.
The SEA Games are being hosted in Myanmar for the first time in over four decades and sporting events have been spread out between Nay Pyi Taw, Yangon, Mandalay, and Ngwe Saung Beach. Transportation and the lack of public information around events appears to have drawn much of the criticism.
"The stadiums are located very far. I didn’t know whether there are buses or not. There aren’t any road signs. I have to walk from one place to another. It took a long time between each bus. There weren’t enough restaurants and they are expensive. The main thing is I have to sit in one place for a long time even though I want to go to see other sports competitions due to transportation difficulties in Nay Pyi Taw," said Zarni Soe from Mandalay Region.
Despite the unaffordable prices for tickets, many events were far from full and local spectators were forced to watch the events at home. However, this didn't kill the joy and enthusiasm many felt for the opportunity to host the event and cheer their favourite athletes.
"We haven’t been able to host a sports event like this for over 40 years. So, I want to cheer for our teams and athletes for our country at this time," said Kyaw Kyaw from Kamayut Township in Yangon.
Some businessmen expressed their concern that the country was spending millions of the national budget for an international sports event while the country still faces many internal challenges during a fragile democratic transition.
"The public is struggling against economic crisis. Billions of money spent on this event is from the country's budget. From an economic point of view, it is a risk to do such thing like this while the country is still poor," said entrepreneur Thein Aung.