PHISGOC apologizes as 2019 SEA Games hit with early complaints from competing football teams

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Football coaches of participating teams in the 2019 SEA Games face the media on November 24 at the Century Park Hotel

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 24) — The organizing committee of the 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games has issued an apology after several international football teams aired concerns over logistics upon arriving in the country for their respective competitions.

The Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC) on Sunday confirmed reports saying the teams from Myanmar, Timor-Leste and Cambodia encountered trouble with their transportation and accommodations.

“We sincerely apologize to our athlete guests from Timor-Leste, Myanmar and Cambodia for the inconvenience caused to them by the confusion regarding their transportation and hotel arrangements,” said Ramon Suzara, PHISGOC Chief Operating Officer.

He explained that some members of the Timor-Leste football team were brought to a different hotel a few minutes away from where they had room reservations.

Cambodian team coach Félix Dalmás said the team waited "eight to nine hours" for their hotel accommodations.

“We know that things are not perfect especially when you are not [in your] home country, but things happen and yeah we just had to wait a few hours before we got picked up. It wasn’t ideal,” Dalmas said.

Photos on social media also showed the Cambodian football team sleeping on chairs and carpeted floors. PHISGOC explained that the team arrived earlier than expected. The team landed at the airport at 4 a.m., ten hours before their scheduled check-in time in the hotel at 2 p.m..

They were asked to remain in a private conference room in the hotel while waiting, Suzara said.

“[The] incidents with the two teams remain a constant reminder for us as organizers to be more diligent. We owe it to our guests and our countrymen,” he added.

Reports and photos also showed the Myanmar team were transported in a small cramped bus.

“I hope so for the future, it cannot happen again....so I think all nations deserve respect and what happened yesterday was not so beautiful…but it’s ok... it’s finished and now we just focus on games,” said Fabiano Flora, coach for the Timor-Leste football team.

The Philippines' women's football team was also not spared, with Hali Long, one of its members, saying on Facebook that their rooms were not ready when they got to the hotel at 11:30 a.m. She added that they had to adjust to four to five people per room, instead of just two.

"Sad that we’re the host team and this is how we’re being treated. I can’t imagine how other countries must feel," Long said.

Traffic and food issues

The Thailand national football team also relayed that they had to cancel their first day of training due to delays in acquiring the athletes’ IDs at the airport and heavy traffic on the way to their hotel. Their accommodation was two hours away from the practice field, the team pointed out.

Reports also said the team received the same menu repeatedly and limited drinking water.

Thailand team coach Nishino Akira said he had hoped the team would have received the right food and environment for his players.

“We will do our best from everything we have [been] provided [with] and I do not want to have it as an excuse. However as an apology for the [footballers], I would like to have players to have a good environment, with the good, perfect meal for the player and wishing the organizer can prepare for all the teams,” said Nishino through an interpreter.

He added that due to the distance from the hotel to the playing field, the team had to make provisions for themselves by training on the street.

“From here to the training ground it takes two hours and for us it's not realistic if we cannot make it by the time so we have to manage ourselves to have a training on the street last night,” the coach said.

Malacañang also offered an apology to the inconvenienced teams.

“Incidents of delays in transport and checking-in at hotels happen in international sports and games by reason of the number of countries and athletes involved…As host country, we apologize for the unintentional inconvenience suffered by our athlete-guests,” said Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo.

Panelo also acknowledged that mistakes are common in big events.

“We are not promising that the Games will run without a hitch… but we will exercise due diligence in making sure everyone will have a pleasant, productive and memorable stay in the Philippines,” he said.

In an interview with media Sunday evening, Panelo said the delays and miscommunications are "never intentional."

"What is appealing to me, or to us, is there is no single incident report of their safety being in danger, or their health being at risk," he added.

These developments come almost two weeks after PHISGOC chair and House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano assured they were ready for the games.

Handang handang handa na tayo,” Cayetano told CNN Philippines on November 11.

[Translation: We are ready.]

The football matches are set to begin on Monday ahead of the SEA Games’ opening ceremony on November 30. The 12-day event will formally close on December 11.