Vietnam's patriotic love of sports

By Quynh Nguyen   May 25, 2022 | 05:00 am PT
Nguyen Quang Tuan yelled: "Let's storm the streets!" when footballer Nham Manh Dung scored to help Vietnam successfully defend the SEA Games men's football gold medal last Sunday.

"I must celebrate after Vietnam defeated Thailand 1-0 to win the SEA Games men's football gold medal," Tuan, a loyal fan who has been supporting the national team for 20 years and eight SEA Games, said.

Despite the rain, he carried the national flag and a drum to join the massive number of cheering football fans hitting the streets nationwide.

Ecstatic fans hit a street in Hanoi after Vietnam beat Thailand to claim the SEA Games 31 mens football gold on May 22, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Chinh

Ecstatic fans hit a street in Hanoi after Vietnam beat Thailand to claim the SEA Games 31 men's football gold medal on May 22, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Chinh

This is the second time the 73-year-old from Hanoi's Thanh Xuan District stormed the street in the middle of the night.

The last time he went out to celebrate was when Vietnam won the AFF Suzuki Cup in 2018. At the time, he rode a motorcycle through 36 streets, shouting "Vietnam is champion!"

The street storming phenomenon was first recorded when Vietnam's football team won a silver medal at the SEA Games in 1995. Since then, this has become a tradition among local football fans whenever the home team wins a big game at a major tournament.

Tuan stated that during his twenty years traveling throughout Southeast Asia to cheer for the home team, nowhere else is the people's enthusiasm for sports as strong as in Vietnam.

According to his observation, when footballers from other countries win a gold medal, the fans simply shout and cheer on the field and then quietly go home.

The media and people of many Southeast Asian countries have praised the host country's fans' enthusiastic spirit and overwhelming supports during the two weeks of SEA Games 31 since there was always a large crowd of local fans cheering at venues of every discipline.

For instance, Thien Truong Stadium in northern Nam Dinh Province was packed with fans, including 60 trumpeters and 18 drummers from Vietnam before the group stage match between Singapore and Laos U23 teams began on May 7. Fans were also spotted holding parades in support of their favorite team.

According to the ASEAN Football Facebook page, Thien Truong Stadium in northern Nam Dinh Province had set a record for the most spectators showing up even for foreign matches in SEA Games history with 30,000 fans.

Not only football, other sports that are frequently under-appreciated like basketball, athletics, swimming, fencing and others also attracted a record number of spectators.

According to Nguyen Trong Ho, director of Vietnam's National Sports Complex, each athletics event at SEA Games 31 drew more than 10,000 spectators, roughly 20 times more than other tournaments.

Overcrowding forced some venues, like those for swimming and archery, to stop accepting spectators.

"The most impressive aspect of this year's SEA Games is the overwhelming support from fans," said Tran Duc Phan, head of the Vietnamese sports delegation at SEA Games 31.

"Event organizers were taken aback by how many people showed up at the field. Sports have become an essential part of people's lives in Vietnam."

Binh Minh, 30, of Hanoi’s Hoang Mai District, has been cheering on competing teams since the first day of SEA Games 31.

"Due to conflicts in schedule at venues across several provinces, I couldn’t attend all of the matches.

"But every day, I tried to go to a stadium, preferably one in Hanoi to watch a sporting event. During the weekend, I would pick one venue in one of the provinces of Ha Nam, Bac Ninh, Hai Phong, or Quang Ninh," Minh said.

To avoid interfering with his work, he applied to work online, completing tasks late at night or early in the morning.

Minh has realized in the last two weeks that he is not alone as the stands at all the stadiums he went to were filled with spectators, indicating that the love for sports among local fans had never cooled down at any point during the Games.

Even in the middle of the week, venues hosting dance sports, fencing, swimming, and table tennis were always crowded, he added.

"It is a great source of motivation for us, helping athletes gain more will and determination to achieve the best result and bring glory to Vietnam," said Bui Thu Thao, SEA Games 31 silver medalist in the women’s long jump.

The female athlete stated that at the 31st SEA Games, there were an average of 10,000 spectators in the stands, which she and her teammates had never seen before when competing abroad.

Vietnamese fans celebrate after Vietnam win the gold medal in the womens football final of SEA Games 31 against Thailand at Cam Pha Stadium in the northern province of Quang Ninh on May 21, 2022. Photo by VnExpress

Vietnamese fans celebrate after Vietnam won the gold medal in the women's football final of SEA Games 31 against Thailand at Cam Pha Stadium in the northern province of Quang Ninh on May 21, 2022. Photo by VnExpress

"Local fans are equally enthusiastic about matches of foreign teams as they are about the home team. Many athletes from regional countries told me that they feel welcomed as if they were competing on their home turfs," Thao stated.

A prime example is Timor Leste runner Felisberto de Deus, 23, who won two silver medals in the 5,000 meter and 10,000 meter disciplines.

"I mistook myself for being at home. Every lap, the Vietnamese cheered me on. They kept clapping their hands and screaming Timor Leste. That was a source of motivation that helped me perform well in the competition," he said.

Timor Leste's athletics coach always bows and says thank you when talking about the support his team received from Vietnamese fans.

"We were surprised to discover that we were not alone in our joy at the finishing line, as thousands of people applauded for us. There has never been a country where we could compete with people cheering and treating us so well like Vietnam," Felisberto's coach said.

Felisberto de Deus waves Timor Lestes and Vietnams flags in celebration of his achievement. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong

Felisberto de Deus waves Timor Leste's and Vietnam's flags in celebration of his achievement. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong

The enthusiastic cheering of the audience at Thien Truong Stadium surprised Laos U23 team coach Michael Weiss.

"These will be memorable moments for Laos U23 players and the entire team. We have the impression that we are playing at our home field," he said after the match on May 7.

Following the Laos sports delegation's journey closely, Noly Xaythideth, 26, from Vientiane, expressed her gratitude to learn that her and other countries' delegations were enthusiastically cheered for by Vietnamese fans.

"Vietnamese fans flock to the games of Laos in large numbers. They bring flags and trumpets to cheer for us and the stands are always packed. This makes me feel welcomed," Noly Xaythideth stated.

Because of the small population and the low number of people interested, Noly Xaythideth admits that the Lao people's passion and sportsmanship are inferior to those of Vietnam.

The image of the stands covered in red and yellows and people storming through the streets late at night, in particular, has never occurred in Laos. The atmosphere and enthusiasm in Vietnam are unparalleled in the ASEAN community," the 26-year-old athlete said.

"It's a pride, national pride," said cultural researcher Dr. Nguyen Anh Hong.

According to her, the fact that people lined up and sat on the stands to cheer for athletes at different venues of SEA Games 31 demonstrated both their love of sports and their desire to unwind after a long period of time after the Covid outbreak.

"They bring a vibrant, enthusiastic atmosphere to the stands rather than focusing on winning and losing," she said.

More specifically, cultural expert Nguyen Hung Vy, former lecturer at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University, in Hanoi, explained that it is patriotism, national pride mixed with the spirit of sports, based on the principles of transparency, equality, kindness, and impartiality.

"Furthermore, the development of the media and mass sports movement has been promoted; the SEA Games organizers' goal is to spread the sports into many provinces and cities, creating favorable conditions for sports fans everywhere to enjoy. Additionally, the desire to go out after two years of the pandemic is the reason why the stands are always packed," he explained.

Speaking about the development of sports in Vietnam, Vy stated that it took nearly 40 years for Vietnam, which began as a country with limited physical strength, to assert its leadership position in the professional competition arena.

The SEA Games 22 marked a watershed moment in Vietnamese sports. The Vietnamese delegation had 752 athletes took home 158 gold medals, nearly twice as many as the second team, Thailand.

Vietnam finished on top of the table at this year's SEA Games, earning a total of 205 gold medals and breaking the record of 194 set by Indonesia in 1997.

"We have earned the right to be proud after a long period of hard work and perseverance. I am confident that the support of the Vietnamese fans will be the driving force behind the athletes' success at the next Games. The movement to promote civilization in the stands, in particular, will keep increasing," Vy noted.

Quang Tuan, 73, plans to travel to Cambodia with the Vietnamese sports delegation for the 2023 SEA Games.

"I'm looking forward to supporting the teams so that the athletes can compete in the best possible spirit. I want to spread the enthusiasm and love for sports from the Vietnamese stands to regional friends," he said with a laugh.

go to top