The SEA Games Federation has agreed to postpone Vietnam’s staging of the 2021 Southeast Asian Games to next year as the country seeks to combat its worst COVID-19 outbreak.

The multi-sport event, which was due to gather over 10,000 athletes, coaches and other participants, had been scheduled for November 21 to December 2. Due to feature 40 sports, Vietnam, which last hosted the SEA Games in 2003, had drawn together a budget of $69m (£50.1m/€58.3m) to stage the event.

However, having been one of the standard-bearers for dealing with COVID-19 at the start of the global pandemic, Vietnam has since been hit by the virus. Ho Chi Minh City, the economic heart of Vietnam, today (Friday) commenced a two-week lockdown.

Hanoi, which is due to be the main host city for the SEA Games, has recorded fewer cases but yesterday moved to suspend transport links with at least 14 cities and provinces. Northern industrial provinces Bac Ninh and Bac Giang, where Games events were also due to take place, have seen virus clusters.

Prior to the current outbreak, which began in late April, Vietnam had recorded fewer than 3,000 COVID-19 cases. This has now risen to around 23,500 infections and 105 deaths. The Olympic Council of Malaysia said in a statement: “The SEA Games Federation members praised the work done thus far by the Vietnam Organising Committee but took note of the current conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic in the South-East Asian region.

“A new date will now be determined by the SEA Games Federation Council.”

However, rescheduling will be far from straightforward, with 2022 set to be a busy year for multi-sport events, especially those concerning Southeast Asian nations. The 2022 Asian Games is due to take place in Hangzhou, China from September 10-25; while the Commonwealth Games, an important event for the likes of Malaysia and Singapore, will be hosted by the English city of Birmingham from July 28 to August 8.

China is also due to host the 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Beijing from February 4-20. Eight of the SEA Games Federation’s 11 member states were last month said to have objected to Vietnam’s request to postpone due to the busy schedule next year.

Deputy secretary of the Thai Olympic Committee Varin Tansuphasiri, who is also a member of the SEA Games Council, said yesterday, according to the Channel News Asia website: “There’s already too many Games next year. There will be a bit (of) trouble for Vietnam to host in 2022.”