Summer Olympics may finally come to ASEAN

Summer Olympics may finally come to ASEAN

An Olympics in ASEAN is no longer a pipe dream after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) changed its charter to allow two countries to co-host the world's biggest sporting event.

Its 104 members convened in Monaco last week and unanimously voted that more than one city or country could jointly stage the quadrennial Games.

This could pave the way for South-east Asian nations to submit joint-bids for the 2024 Summer Games and future editions and could mark the first time the Games is staged in this part of the world.

Indonesia's Olympic Committee president Rita Subowo is optimistic of the opportunities that lay ahead for her country and the region. She told The Straits Times: "This raises lots of possibilities for an ASEAN country to host the Olympics. All the potential is there if we can overcome certain limitations."

One of the obvious obstacles for aspiring ASEAN hosts is the lack of developed infrastructure to cater to a wide variety of events. There were 26 sports at the London Olympics in 2012 and the showpiece event for the planet's greatest athletes requires multiple state-of-the-art venues.

"The IOC has very high standards and it's hard to built 20 plus world-class facilities from scratch," said Subowo. "Hence, having it spread across two countries makes it more realistic in terms of costs."

In the last 27 editions of the Summer Games, only wealthy and developed East Asian cities - Tokyo in 1964, Seoul in 1988 and Beijing in 2008 - have played host.

Sustainability was one of the driving forces behind IOC president Thomas Bach's push to lower the cost of staging the Olympics. It took the city of Montreal almost 30 years to pay off the debt incurred in hosting the 1976 Games while Russia spent an estimated US$50 billion (S$66 billion) on the Winter Olympics in Sochi earlier this year.

The new measures offer greater flexibility in the bidding process and offers a broader reach, said Ng Ser Miang, head of the IOC's finance commission and chairman of the Singapore Olympic Foundation.

"Two countries with existing facilities that are deemed suitable can now work together and put themselves forward to co-host the Games," he added.

Splitting the Olympics across separate countries - and even continents - is not unheard of. The equestrian events of the 1956 Melbourne Games were held in Stockholm, Sweden due to Australia's strict quarantine regulations.

Of greater concern is the issue of fair division as partnering nations jostle with each other for the more prominent attractions. Who, for instance, should host the opening and closing ceremony? Who gets the marquee events like swimming, track and field and gymnastics? Even which country gets first mention in the official title could become a source of conflict.

Thailand's Nat Indrapana, an IOC member since 1990, said: "Co-hosting in principle is a good idea but the practical implementation of this proposal also creates a lot of other problems. With two countries involved, who gets what can become an issue."

Another concern raised is whether the spirit and tradition of the Games becomes diluted when spread across two countries.

While the IOC lifted the 28-sports limit, thereby clearing the path for new sports to be introduced from the 2020 Summer Games onwards, it has kept the restriction on participating athletes to 10,500 and events to 310.

"So the scale of the Games in each country will naturally be smaller and that may not be ideal for some," said Malaysian Olympic Committee secretary-general Sieh Kok Chi.

The devil may be in the details but Indonesia's Subowo was adamant that these could be ironed out. She said: "We strongly support these proposals and are very optimistic about hosting the Olympics in ASEAN in the future."

This article was first published on Dec 16, 2014.
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