THE Philippines SEA Games started in shambles but the opening ceremony lifted their spirits, the organisers learnt their lessons quickly, took on the challenge and a typhoon – and when the closing ceremony began yesterday, it could be declared a fairly successful meet.
Before the start, athletes were sent to the wrong hotels and had to sleep on the floor while waiting to get their rooms.The media rooms were not completed. The squash competition had to be moved and an event cancelled because the venue was not ready.
Social media was full of criticism and even Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte called for an investigation.
News of Typhoon Kammuri, or Typhoon Tisoy when it hit the Philippines, caused panic and there were fears it was going to rip the Games apart.
But the Filipinos are hardy people. With every passing day, the organisers learned from their mistakes and improved.
With athletes being forced to arrive late and storms hitting venues, the organisers were quick to postpone some dates.
Rubber-strapped barriers in the mixed zone were changed to steel barriers. The organisers grew resourceful and always had a Plan B, ready to adapt to any situation.
The shuttle buses were sometimes insufficient to manage the huge crowds travelling to New Clark City Athletics Centre and Aquatic Centre, and they called up other buses which would come through – not immediately but not too late, either.
They knew how to prioritise the media and volunteers for the buses. During the heavy rains, the security or the volunteers would call for minivans to pick up athletes and media personnel who were stuck at certain locations.
Where journalists were first denied access to venues, the security personnel and volunteers grew more welcoming and were ready to help or adapt to solve their problems.
Even the people, despite being affected by the typhoon, were on hand to help anyone who needed it. Yes, there were thieves who stole a journalist’s phone, the hotels were in seedy areas, and there was the stress of running around in jams to get the stories before the deadline.
But the kindness of the average Filipino, from the Grab drivers to the people on the street and the restaurateurs, made it all bearable, enjoyable even. There was no shortage of politeness and helpfulness.
Most shops close early but with hungry journalists looking for food late at night, they were willing to stay open, polite and helpful even during the late shift. The waiters and waitresses were friendly and so were the taxi drivers, always ready with a greeting and a thank you.
Even the local journalists were caring. One offered me the Philippines bread or “pandesal” as I was working. Busy, I refused.
And after my work was done, there he was again, smiling and with the bread. This time, I accepted. I was famished.
Thank you Matthew and the Philippines. Congratulations to all the athletes, gold, silver, bronze or none at all... as the Philippines 2019 SEA Games motto goes, you all win as one!
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