Vietnamese sports fail at Tokyo Olympics due to old grievances

By Hoang Nguyen   August 3, 2021 | 05:30 am PT
Vietnamese sports fail at Tokyo Olympics due to old grievances
Nguyen Huy Hoang competes in Olympic swimming on July 30, 2021. Photo by AFP.
Poor management, limited investment and few resources are the main reasons behind Vietnam’s disappointing performance at the Tokyo Olympics, according to insiders.

"We have to accept a hard truth that Vietnam has failed at Tokyo 2020 because of the same old problems. These problems, strictly related to sports development in Vietnam, have existed for dozens of years and still haven't been thoroughly resolved. The big question is why Vietnam did not succeed in the Olympics. This requires an answer from those responsible. We should empathize with the athletes instead of blaming them because they are not the cause of the failure," Nguyen Hong Minh, former chief of the Department of High Achievement Sports - Physical Education and Sports Committee, told Thanh Nien newspaper.

It’s undeniable that Covid-19 has affected preparations for the Olympics this year. However, that’s not the main reason for the poor performance, since other countries were also affected by the pandemic, not only Vietnam. Furthermore, the pandemic has raged for only a year or so, while preparations for such a big event takes many years.

"We were not well prepared in the long run. It requires great management, modern facilities, proper application of science and technology in essential factors like nutrition, training, recovery and injury treatment. This process needs focused investment, which means huge financial support," Mind added.

Not enough investment

Football expert Doan Minh Xuong said the investment put into Vietnamese sports in the past years was very limited, only aiming for achievements in regional tournaments like SEA Games but not at international level.

"Therefore, fans could already predict the failure before the Olympics even started."

According to Xuong, an athlete only gets around $17 a day toward nutrition and training. Every year, Vietnamese sports receive a budget of a few million dollars, but it’s not adequate. For example in Ho Chi Minh City, the monthly budget for national athletes is just around $500 a month, only enough to cover living expenses.

"In my opinion, Vietnamese sports must be funded appropriately or it would forever stay in one place," Xuong added, as cited by Thanh Nien.

Huynh Sang, a sports commentator, said Vietnamese athletes need better investment to maintain their potential and become top performers

"For instance, why does badminton player Nguyen Thuy Linh have good skills but not stamina? If Linh is trained and facilitated like in the top sports nations, she would definitely be different. Also, the mentality and spirit of the athletes need to be cultivated through regular competition in international tournaments and an professional environment, but what has the industry done to help them?"

Badminton player Nguyen Thuy Linh in her first game of Tokyo Olympics on July 24, 2021. Photo by AFP.

Badminton player Nguyen Thuy Linh in her first game of Tokyo Olympics on July 24, 2021. Photo by AFP.

Another example is swimmer Nguyen Thi Anh Vien. She has passed over a year without a coach and had to train on her own before competing at the Olympics. As a result, she finished last in her category and exited the event early.

"Most Vietnamese athletes rely on the financial support of their families and their own efforts. I don’t know when Vietnam will look at them as valuable assets and give them the investment they deserve," Sang told Thanh Nien.

For Minh, the lack of financial support is a "chronic disease" in Vietnamese sports. Although the athletes have given their best, they cannot close the gap with very strong opponents from other countries. That’s why setting the goal for them to get an Olympic medal is not realistic, as we cannot and should not put expectations on them when the problems are still there.

Solutions for the future

Minh said that if state funding is short, social capital can be raised. Countries around the world, including Southeast Asian nations like Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia have obtained abundant resources from social capital. This has become the inevitable development path for world sports, but not in Vietnam. It is time for sports federations in Vietnam to change their perceptions and means of operation, in order to mobilize greater resources in society, he said.

According to a sports manager from the south, who does not want to be named, Vietnamese sports needs additional support apart from the state.

"I think if we want to aim for higher achievements on the international stage, we must first solve the existing problems like facilities and funding. We cannot target the Olympic gold medal right away. Hoang Xuan Vinh’s gold medal in shooting at Olympic 2016 was a special case and didn’t reflect the whole sports scene in Vietnam. Maybe we are at the top of Southeast Asia but in the continental stage, specifically Asian Games, Vietnam lags far behind. Therefore, we should proceed step by step, Asian Games first then Olympics later.

We must also invest in the right targets, focusing on sports that are suited to Vietnamese like weightlifting (low weight classes), martial arts (lightweight classes), shooting, archery, badminton and table tennis," he said.

Hoang Thi Duyen lifts a total of 208 kg at Tokyo Olympics on July 27, 2021. Photo by Reuters.

Hoang Thi Duyen lifts a total of 208 kg at Tokyo Olympics on July 27, 2021. Photo by Reuters.

At the Tokyo Olympics, 18 Vietnamese athletes have competed in 11 sports and all of them were eliminated, with some exiting the tournament during the first round. The biggest hopes were put on athletes like Thach Kim Tuan, Hoang Thi Duyen (weightlifting) and Hoang Xuan Vinh (shooting) but they all failed.

This is the first time Vietnamese sports went home empty-handed from the Olympics since the 2004 edition in Greece. Meanwhile, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia have already claimed medals in this year’s event.

"Vietnamese sports have identified the right strengths like weightlifting, shooting, taekwondo, gymnastics and some categories of swimming. But management, development and preparation of these sports are still poor," Minh said.

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