Wednesday, July 26, 2017

SEA Games: breaking Myanmar's budget?

Labourers work at the construction site of a football stadium in Nay Pyi Taw. (AFP)Labourers work at the construction site of a football stadium in Nay Pyi Taw. (AFP)

Officials in Nay Pyi Taw are understandably eager to show off the new stadiums that are to serve as the centrepieces of the Southeast Asian Games next year – just don’t ask about the price tag.

Three enormous venues are nearing completion in Nay Pyi Taw, rising out of the flat plains of the sprawling, low-density capital. In January 2010, U Zaw Zaw’s Max Myanmar began building the sporting complex in Zabuthiri township, including a multi-use indoor stadium, aquatics centre and 30,000-seat football stadium.

Across the road is the games village that will host thousands of athletes and officials from the nine other ASEAN nations and Timor-Leste taking part in the 27th SEA Games, which will open on December 11, 2013.

A 30-minute drive from the venues and village, coaches at a training facility opened in 2011 are preparing 800 of the country’s best athletes. A countdown calendar posted on the wall serves as a constant reminder of the dwindling days until competition begins.

Away from Nay Pyi Taw, a sailing facility is being constructed at Ngwe Saung Beach for yachting events, while facilities in Yangon are also being overhauled. In Mandalay’s Chanmyartharsi township, Max Myanmar is building yet another stadium, which will be used for the women’s football games.

But the facilities in Yangon, Mandalay and Ngwe Saung are all serving as secondary sites to Nay Pyi Taw.

It is clear that officials are keen to use the international event to showcase Myanmar’s often criticised capital, known for its inaccessibility and grandiose monuments to the military.

The bookends of the SEA Games, the opening and closing ceremonies, will take place in Nay Pyi Taw. Organisers have traditionally used the ceremonies to emphasise national unity.

The Nay Pyi Taw football stadium is the venue nearest to completion; Deputy Minister for Sport U Thaung Htike said the stadium is 90 to 95 percent finished.

While the bill for the stadium is not known, it boasts numerous touches of extravagance. The VIP entrance features a mirrored wall overlaid with ornate woodcarvings. Team lounges have hardwood floors. The suite for visiting dignitaries is lined with rows of plush seats that provide a panoramic view of the pitch.

The floor of the reception room for special guests is covered in a layer of lush carpet, which remains covered in plastic to protect it from the fine dust created by the sanding, sawing and scraping of the 700 employees rushing to have the stadium ready by the December 31 deadline.