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July 17, 2008

SEA Games 2009: Laos claims making good progress
Laos is making great strides towards a successful hosting of the 2009 Southeast Asian Games, Reuter’s quoted the country’s Olympic chief as saying.

Laos receives a flood of handouts from the international community. The funding, construction and expertise for the 25th edition of the Games is being provided almost entirely by other countries after the hard-up nation made a desperate plea for help with its first international sports event.

"Everything is moving well now, with a little help from all our friends," Olympic chief Somphou Phongsa told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"Facilities are 60 percent complete. We will be a more than suitable host for the SEA Games."

China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and the Olympic Council of Asia have come to Laos's rescue to ensure the Games go ahead.

China has provided more than $100 million to construct a 20,000-seat stadium and is building two indoor stadiums, a tennis centre and the country's first Olympic-sized swimming pool.

South Korean companies are financing a taekwondo centre and a 27-hole golf course and Japan was funding a judo venue.

Thailand last month pledged $2.9 million and will train officials in 12 sports, while neighbouring Vietnam has put up $19 million to build eight 10-storey apartment blocks for athletes.

Singapore has offered computer technicians and English teachers to educate volunteers and staff, most of which will be local university students.

"We've had so much help so far," added Somphou, who will lead a Laotian team of just four athletes at next month's Beijing Olympics. "We couldn't have done it without them."

The Games take place in December 2009 and will be contested by Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar, East Timor, Brunei, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Although only a minor event on the sporting calendar, the SEA Games is taken as seriously as the Olympics by the 11 competing countries, most of which are historic foes.

Despite the motto of "spirit, friendship and celebration", the biennial gathering of around 7,000 athletes is often dogged by tit-for-tat spats, dubious judging and cries of foul play - sometimes from the countries' leaders.

Some nations are unhappy the communist country was awarded the Games and are furious that the number of sports was slashed from 43 to 25, with obscure disciplines like Muay Lao, pencak silat, wushu, petanque and kempo replacing traditional sports like gymnastics, archery, cycling and weightlifting.

Somphou insisted Laos was up to the task, even though it has virtually no experience hosting sports events. "We've had some difficulty," he said. "But we will be ready."

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