The South-east Asian Games officially opened on Friday in Indonesia, despite a slew of problems including corruption, unfinished venues and poor ticket sales.
Eleven nations will contest sports from athletics and swimming to sepak takraw - a cross between football and volleyball - in the biennial Games held in the Indonesian capital Jakarta and Palembang in South Sumatra.
The opening ceremony took place in the city of Palembang, host of the headline athletics and swimming events.
“It is still hard to sell a sporting event (in Indonesia),” Agus Mauro, a ticketing event official with organizers Inasoc, was quoted by The Jakarta Globe as saying.
“We've been advertizing the Games on television, billboards... but it is still hard to sell match tickets.”
The football competition - supposedly one of the big draws - has failed to pull crowds bigger than a few thousand since it started on November 3, ahead of the official start.
The sparse stands have added to a sense of foreboding shrouding the 26th edition of the Games that has been beset by problems since the ruling party's treasurer allegedly pocketed US$3 million in bribes from a firm seeking tenders to build the athletes’ village, and then fled to Colombia with the spoils.
The potential for a shambolic start to the proceedings, echoing the embarrassment heaped on India's Commonwealth Games, was heightened by the failure to finish venues or provide enough rooms for athletes and visitors.
Under the slogan “United and Rising”, the SEA Games are designed to showcase Indonesia's rise as a regional powerhouse, with a booming economy backed by a massive 245 million population.
Although the rest of the world will largely ignore them, the Games are big news in South-east Asia, capturing the imagination of the competing nations, with dozens of gold medals and regional bragging rights up for grabs. (AFP)
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