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Burma ‘100 percent ready’ for SEA Games, says sports minister

Brunei's Md Najib Tarif (bottom) and Burma’s Thet Naing chase for the ball during the semi-final of the Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy for ASEAN Youth Football Tournament 2012 in Bandar Seri Begawan on 7 March 2012. (PHOTO: Reuters)

In a major test of Burma’s infrastructure and organisation, thousands of athletes, officials, media and visitors will descend for the 22-day multi-sport event starting on Sunday.

“We are 100 percent ready to hold the SEA Games,” sports ministry director Htay Aung told AFP.

“We are ready now. We held the final rehearsal of opening ceremony yesterday [Thursday],” he added.

Htay Aung said 6,000 athletes and 3,000 journalists are due for the Games, which begin in low-key fashion with football preliminaries and floorball demonstration events on Sunday.

The event comes just two years after the former pariah state started making wide-ranging reforms in a sudden and unexpected opening-up to the outside world.

It does not formally get underway until the opening ceremony on Dec 11 at the 30,000-seat Wunna Theikdi Stadium in the newly built capital, Naypyidaw.

Nine thousand athletes and journalists alone are expected and “hundreds of thousands” of local fans will attend, Htay Aung said.

Vice President Nyan Tun has urged athletes to “strive for a golden age of Myanmar sports… improving the reputation of the country and making history to be regarded as sporting heroes,” according to a government release.

However, privately some officials are concerned about the preparations and potential problems, especially the number of hotel rooms to accommodate all the visitors.

“There are many things to be done even though many ministries are involved. Hotel rooms cannot be enough because many foreigners and many visitors will come,” a government official, who did not want to be named, told AFP.

“Ten of thousands of people will join the events. Hopefully everything can be done smoothly. Cooperation between ministries is very weak,” he confided.

A senior police official admitted: “Thousands of athletes and officials and also thousands of fans will come. Although we tried our best for security with enough numbers, I’m a little bit nervous.”

The SEA Games are not unfamiliar with problems. The last edition in Indonesia was hit by corruption and delays in construction, and a deadly stadium stampede at the men’s football final.

Burma is currently battling religious and ethnic tensions with unrest and bomb blasts in parts of the country in recent weeks.

Some 1,380 medals will be handed out in events ranging from mainstream sports such as athletics to the traditional but obscure Burmese pursuit of chinlone.