Vietnam reneged on its bid to hold the Asian Games and now no one else wants to

Not cheap.
Not cheap.
Image: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

After careful consideration, Vietnam’s economic leaders have decided against hosting the Asian Games, the largest sporting event in Asia after the Olympics, in 2019 as was planned. The decision puts the Southeast Asian country in a small club of nations who have reneged on bids to host global sporting events that critics say often bring more costs than benefits.

Vietnam had won a bid to host the event in Hanoi, but lagging economic growth and estimates that the games would cost up to $500 million in building and upgrading infrastructure have dissuaded officials. ”Hosting and successfully organizing regional and international sports events will contribute to socio-economic development, promoting the country’s image and increasing its position. However, if it fails to do so, the effects will be reversed,” Vietnam’s prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung said late last week, according to state media. “The State budget is limited and prioritized for other urgent projects.”

The sensible remarks are in stark contrast to the number of countries who traditionally vie to hold international sporting competitions, a sign that attitudes toward such events may be changing. As as we’ve pointed out, just how much good comes from hosting the Olympics and other events is still up for debate.

After hosting the Asian Games in 2010, the Chinese city of Guangzhou was saddled with $32 billion in debt—one reason why China is campaigning for a cheaper approach to major sporting events. India is still paying off costs from hosting the Asian Games as well as the 2010 Commonwealth Games. And Malaysia says it will only consider hosting the event in Hanoi’s place if the Olympic Council of Asia agrees to help foot the bill. This year, South Korea is hosting a scaled-down version of the event.

Pulling out of the games makes sense especially for Vietnam whose economy is recovering but still hobbled by high debt, falling domestic spending, and a government troubled by corruption and inefficiency. The World Bank projects the Vietnamese economy will grow 5.4% this year, slower than the official target of 5.8%.

Only two other countries have reneged on promises to host the Asian Games: South Korea in 1970, after getting security threats from North Korea. Pakistan also pulled out in 1978 because of conflicts with India and Bangladesh. In 1970, the US city of Denver won a bid to host the 1976 Winter Olympics but later turned down the offer after the city voted against a $5 million bond to help finance the event. (Innsbruck, Austria stepped up to host those games instead.)