Just as the region and the world were emerging from COVID-19, Vietnam pulled out all stops and optimised all possible resources to overcome an array of difficulties and challenges to hold a successful 31st Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games 31) in May, leaving an indelible impression on the hearts of international athletes and friends.

Nineteen years ago, Hanoi and Vietnam played host to SEA Games 22, from December 5 to 13, 2003, under the slogan “Unity and cooperation for peace and development.” This was the first time Vietnam had hosted the region’s largest sports event. Its success left an unforgettable imprint on Vietnam’s sporting landscape as well as its process of economic development and integration.

Nearly two decades later, Vietnam has hosted SEA Games 31. With significant effort, including preparations to hold the 12-day event with COVID-19 still to be fully brought under control, the country once again affirmed its position in the regional arena and authenticated its image as a hospitable, safe, and dynamic country.

“It is difficult to organise a major sporting event, and even more so amid COVID-19,” said Tan Chan-Jin, Speaker, Singaporean Parliament. “There are so many moving parts. To be able to do what they’ve done really is first class. Talking to our athletes and officials, they have felt nothing but warmth, friendship, and hospitality.”

“Everything here, from technology to equipment, meets international standards,” said Ruj Saeng-Udom, a reporter with the Thai Public Broadcasting Service.

Vietnam successfully hosted SEA Games 31 in a spirit of “solidarity, unity, safety, effectiveness, and thrift”, and with a high sense of responsibility in line with the Games’ theme “For a Stronger Southeast Asia”.

It featured 40 sports and 523 events in Hanoi and 11 nearby localities. All venues were upgraded to meet international standards.

The Games started with the opening matches of the men’s football tournament, on May 6, with the official opening ceremony held at My Dinh National Stadium on May 12.

SEA Games 31 has now wrapped up and was greatly appreciated in terms of logistics, security and safety, and disease prevention.

Mohamdad Kusnaeni, a reporter with the Radio Republik Indonesia, said: “All of the facilities are very good, and our access card made everything really easy, which is good for the SEA Games. Even the press centres in localities hosting events were easy to reach.”

SEA Games 31: Swimmer Nguyen Huy Hoang wins another gold in the men’s 200m butterfly (Photo: VNA)

SEA Games 31 had earlier received major attention from all levels and ministries in Vietnam. The interest and attention paid to SEA Games 31 not only came from the central government but also from local authorities and people from all walks of life who actively and enthusiastically participated in its success. This showed that sports receive major support from society.

Hanoi, where 18 events took place at 15 venues, issued a directive on decorations and environmental sanitation in the capital to welcome SEA Games 31.

With the motto “For a clean and beautiful Hanoi”, the capital carried out a clean-up campaign citywide and boosted urban enhancements to promote its image as a safe and green city with friendly and warm people.

Shin Tae-young, Head of Indonesia’s U23 football team, said: “I have a good impression of Vietnam and its people, and Vietnam and Indonesia have a close relationship.”

Pongpisit Intaranan from Thailand’s TBS TV considers himself luckier than many of his colleagues, as he has reported on seven SEA Games. He was amazed, however, at the hospitality and enthusiasm shown by Vietnam as host of SEA Games 31.

Vietnamese people, he said, are huge sports fans. All of the stadiums were packed, even when members of the home team weren’t competing. The supporters always tried to send out positive energy to the athletes, even foreign athletes, through songs and cheers.

SEA Games 31 left a good impression on international friends for its professionalism, safety, and thoughtfulness, with a hospitable atmosphere at all venues and on the streets.

Vietnamese people and sports lovers from the 11 ASEAN countries lived amid an unforgettable sporting atmosphere, fulfilling the spirit of “For a Stronger Southeast Asia”.

“Vietnam was enthusiastic in hosting SEA Games 31. Our delegation had eight reporters, and all were wowed by Vietnam’s preparations for the region’s biggest sports event,” said Dolly Rosana, a reporter with Indonesia’s Antara News Agency. “As with the opening ceremony, the closing ceremony was unforgettable,” the reporter added.

SEA Games 31 not only affirmed the position of Vietnamese sports in the regional sporting landscape but also made a significant contribution to boosting the image of the country and its people, historical traditions, and cultural identity, lifting its profile and contributing to strengthening solidarity and friendship with people and friends throughout Southeast Asia.

Tours ready for SEA Games Guests. (Video: VNA)

According to the Hanoi Department of Tourism, the capital welcomed nearly 700,000 domestic tourists and 31,448 international visitors during the 12 days of SEA Games 31.

The image of Hanoi, with its rich cultural traditions and socio-economic achievements, made a great impression on delegations, athletes, reporters, and international visitors, contributing to attracting even more tourists and investors to Vietnam and Hanoi in the future and at the same time affirming the ability of the capital to host international and regional events.

Pairoj Archarungroj, Head of Thailand’s Sepak takraw team, said: “The weather is beautiful, and Hanoi is a clean and green city. I visited the capital 10 years ago, but it is now more developed. I will certainly return with my family and visit Da Nang.”

“This my first time in Vietnam, and I’m impressed that life has completely returned to normal after COVID-19. Hanoi is a beautiful city, with a clean environment and plenty of trees,” said Pattaraphong Yupadee, an athlete from the Thai Sepak takraw team. “The historical and other sites in the city are full of visitors and everyone is friendly and hospitable,” he said.

SEA Games 31 has successfully wrapped up, but echoes of the regional sports festival remain in the hearts of local sports fans. Exciting and thrilling competitions marked by sportsmanship, the splendour of the opening ceremony, full of friendship and solidarity, the festive atmosphere, and the hospitality and warm welcome from everyone in the host country have together contributed to a sweet aftertaste from SEA Games 31.

The atmosphere of the largest sports festival in the region and the beautiful message “For a Stronger Southeast Asia” will continue to spread far and wide./.

Thu Hien – Phuong Anh – Thao Nguyen – Thanh Nga – Tra Mi