The regional Olympics were scheduled to be held in Hanoi and 11 other locations from November 21 to December 2.
But Vietnam is struggling to contain a new coronavirus outbreak, and many Southeast Asian Games events were planned in provinces hard-hit by the fresh wave of infections.
“Definitely, the 31st SEA games will not (be hosted) this year as scheduled in November,” said Varin Tansuphasiri, Games Council member and deputy secretary of the Thai Olympic Committee.
“Vietnam wants to postpone the Games until next year, 2022.”
The postponement was due to the pandemic, he said, with Vietnam proposing to host the Games in April or May next year.
The decision comes after Vietnam announced nine million people in Ho Chi Minh City would go into lockdown for two weeks in the early hours of Friday.
Hanoi, which was to be at the centre of the SEA Games, has had fewer cases but on Thursday suspended transport links with at least 14 cities and provinces to fight the virus’ spread.
Virus clusters have appeared up and down the country, including in the northern industrial provinces of Bac Ninh and Bac Giang, where Games events were due to take place.
One badminton venue in Bac Giang has been turned into a field hospital.
Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang told reporters Thursday that authorities had recommended to “postpone the hosting of 31st SEA Games to a more appropriate time”.
‘Too many games next year’
But Tansuphasiri said it was not straightforward to find a suitable time in next year’s sporting calendar.
“There’s already too many games next year,” he said, citing the Beijing Winter Olympics in February 2022 and the Commonwealth Games in July next year.
“There will be a bit (of) trouble for Vietnam to host in 2022.”
Vietnam was once a model for virus containment due to its extensive contact-tracing and strict quarantines, but it has struggled to procure and roll out vaccines.
It is currently facing its worst virus outbreak so far, with nearly 23,500 cases now recorded and 105 deaths.
Prior to this outbreak, which began in late April, fewer than 3,000 cases had been recorded across the country.
Its regional neighbours are faring much worse — with Indonesia detecting tens of thousands of new cases each day and Thailand mulling harsher restrictions after a record daily death toll on Thursday.
“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,” said a statement by the Olympic Council of Malaysia, which confirmed the postponement.
Vietnam previously hosted the SEA Games in 2003. It has allocated a budget of around $69 million for the Games.
The multisports competition is expected to attract nearly 20,000 participants, including about 7,000 athletes, from 11 countries, according to state media.
As well as Olympic disciplines, sports are likely to include billiards and snooker, bodybuilding, chess, bowling and kurash, an ancient form of Uzbek wrestling.
At the 2019 SEA Games, the Philippines — the host nation — topped the medal table, with 149 golds. Vietnam came second with 98 gold medals.