By Kristel Satumbaga
The battle for spectators goes full blast in the 30th Southeast Asian Games!
Basketball at the Mall of Asia Arena remains the undisputed champion, with an all-PBA national team guaranteed to lure in a capacity crowd every game. But challengers have now emerged, with the wannabes — from volleyball at the Philsports Arena in Pasig to gymnastics, weightlifting, football and tennis at the refurbished Rizal Memorial Sports Complex, and, of course, athletics and swimming at New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac — eager to dethrone the national pastime as biggest draw.
With the biennial meet unfolding Saturday at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan, action now flies and furious for the next 12 days in various venues. Expect, however, several sports to hog the spotlight with its popularity among the audience.
Fans, understandably, are expected to come in droves at the MOA in Pasay City when competition fires off in men’s basketball starting Dec. 4.
The Nationals are perennial champions in the sport considered by Filipinos as close to religion and are all but 100 percent sealed to deliver the gold medal regardless of naturalized players in the opposition.
The country has won 17 of 19 basketball gold medals in the meet, reigning supreme since the 1991 Manila edition.
Pro players are representing Gilas Pilipinas, certain to attract PBA fans who would be looking forward to watch their favorite players, among them June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, Kiefer Ravena and Troy Rosario, in one team.
Also interesting for fans to watch will be Gilas’ former coach, Serbian Rajko Toroman, who is calling the shots for the Indonesian team. How well Toroman can motivate his players against a virtual All-Star Philippine team and its multi-Grand Slam coach, Tim Cone, is a question legions will pay hard money to see answered — live.
Volleyball’s magnetism could will be filled to the rafters with volleyball fans when competition unfolds on Dec. 2.
Volleyball’s popularity continues to rise in the country, and the likes of Alyssa Valdez, Mika Reyes and Aby Maraño donning the national colors and competing against the best squads from the region, especially dynastic ruler Thailand, will be a mouth-watering attraction followers will be eager to watch up close.
The Thais, who have been dominating the women’s division over the last nine editions, have world-class players like Pleumjit Thinkaow and Tomkom Nootsara, making the PH-Thai game a must-see for sports fans.
Also getting more crowd support will be gymnastics at the refurbished Rizal Memorial Coliseum where breathtaking Carlos Yulo seeks his first SEA Games gold medal after becoming the first Filipino and male Southeast Asian athlete to rule an event in World Artistic Gymnastics Championships, the floor exercise.
And then there’s Rio Olympics silver medalist weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, also going for her first SEAG gold medal at the Ninoy Aquino Stadium.
Swimming, one of the centerpiece sports, will be rocking with the presence of Olympian Joseph Schooling of Singapore at the Aquatic Center in New Clark City, and the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium, which opened its lights days before the inaugural ceremony, will come to its riveting conclusion, pulling in hordes of Azkals and football fanatics.
When the world-class Athletics Stadium lifts the curtains for the track and field event, no seat is expected to be left unoccupied at the NCC, with Tokyo Olympics-bound pole vaulter EC Obiena highlighting the event.
Boxing, behind world champion Nesthy Petecio and world silver medalist Eumir Felix Marcial, will brawl its way to a close finish from the Philippine International Convention Center, while the ageless Efren ‘Bata’ Reyes will be pulling off more magic tricks in the billiards competition at the Manila Hotel Tent.
Darkhorses would be Subic where triathlon and open water events will be held; Tagaytay, where cycling and Asian Games gold medal skateboarder Margie Didal will be wowing the crowd, and RMSC tennis courts with Treat Huey and Francis Alcantara returning for national team duty.
So get those venue tickets ready and let the Filipino athletes feel the roaring hometown crowd behind them every step of the way wherever they are doing battle… starting now!
Tags: #SEAGames2019, 30th Southeast Asian Games, Aby Marano, Alyssa Valdez, Carlos Yulo, Efren “Bata” Reyes, EJ Obiena, Eumir Felix Marcial, Francis Alcantara, Gilas Pilipinas, Hidylin Diaz, Japeth Aguilar, Joseph Schooling, June Mar Fajardo, Kiefer Ravena, Margie Didal, Mika Reyes, Nesthy Petecio, Pleumjit Thinkaow, Rajko Toroman, Rio Olympics, SEA Games, Southeast Asian Games, Tomkom Nootsara, Treat Huey, Troy Rosario