President Rodrigo Duterte will attend Saturday’s (Nov 30) opening ceremony of the Southeast Asian Games, the presidential palace said, a day after the Philippine leader apologised for the chaotic build-up.
The organisation of the 30th edition of the SEA Games has been mocked and marred by complaints about transport, accommodation and food as thousands of athletes have flooded into the Philippines for the biggest-ever edition of the multi-sport event.
And the threat of an approaching typhoon – forecasted to hit the north of the country early next week – looms large.
Duterte had pledged a probe into the troubled run-up to the Games’ opening ceremony at the Philippine Arena, around 25km north of the capital Manila, after a rush of logistical problems and last-minute construction.
“I’m really apologising for the country … they (other nations) should know while they are still here that the government is not happy,” Duterte said in an interview that aired Friday.
“You cannot just cast away all those – the discomfort, the sufferings of the athletes, sleeping on the floors, getting hungry,” he added. “To the countries that sent them here, it’s a big deal.”
He also instructed organisers to release complimentary tickets to many of the 56 sports at the SEA Games to locals.
The Philippines was bracing for a typhoon which national forecasters warned was maintaining its strength.
PAGASA said Typhoon Kammuri – which is packing gusts of 185 kph and maximum sustained winds of 150 kph – is presently heading right for Games venues in the north of the country and is expected to make landfall on Tuesday.
In Manila, about 2,000 protesters – some dressed as athletes – marched near the Philippine presidential palace on Saturday to demand that Duterte and Games organising committee chairman Alan Peter Cayetano be held to account over alleged corruption in funding.
Some held a large banner that read “Support Our Athletes. No to SEA Games Corruption”, “We are Proud of Our Athletes” and “We Are Ashamed Of Our Government”.
“There are widespread reports of anomalies. These should be investigated,” hotel worker Gerry Bodol told AFP as he held up a hand-printed red poster that read: “Make Duterte and Cayetano Pay for #SEAGamefail”.
The organising committee, which has the support of Duterte, has denied the allegations.
With only sailing, windsurfing and netball on the sporting schedule on Saturday, all eyes will be on the opening ceremony, which starts at 7pm.
Many of the details remain a secret, although the show’s director, Filipino writer Floy Quintos, shared a photo on Facebook of hundreds of performers in colourful costumes on stage.
“Yes, the show is a spectacle,” wrote the award-winning playwright, adding the image showed a people “united”.
“And the power of spectacle is one that has been used, worldwide by the powerful to further agendas. But it is in the hands of the spectacle’s creators to patch together some meaning, some cohesion, some message that goes beyond the political.”
This year’s Games in Clark, Manila and Subic, which run through to Dec 11, are particularly complex with a record 56 sports across dozens of venues that are in some cases hours’ drives apart, even before Manila’s notorious gridlock traffic is factored in.