A Vietnam Olympics? Investment and Opportunities

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It was recently suggested that closer ties between the US and Vietnam could pave the way for Vietnam to host the Olympics. So, is the prospect of Vietnam hosting the world’s biggest sporting event realistic? And, if so, how could foreign investors play a role in making it happen?


In an Economist’s Note last month suggested that Vietnam’s Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with the US could pave the way for Vietnam to host an Olympic Games within a decade or two. This would be a huge undertaking with the Olympics inquiring host nations to have a strong economic foundation. That said, Vietnam is very much getting there. According to the , between 2008 and 2022, Vietnam witnessed an impressive 3.6-fold increase in GDP per capita, surpassing US$4,100. This is well beyond China’s GDP per capita of around US$3,400 in 2008 when it hosted the Beijing Summer Olympics. And, while Vietnam’s economy is still in the process of development, there are promising indications that it has the potential to host such a monumental event, though this will require vast sums of capital, both domestic and foreign.

A huge investment

Hosting the Olympics can bring both economic opportunities but also burdens. The Olympic Games are renowned as the most spectacular sports event globally and can boost a country’s economy; however, it also requires substantial financial resources and it’s becoming more expensive. In fact, the average cost of hosting the Olympics has increased by . This can put a strain on the economy of any host nation. Greece, the host of the 2004 Olympics, exemplifies the potential challenges. Greece , including over US$1.2 billion for security costs on the Athens Olympics in 2004. The expenses associated with the Athens Summer Games were later thought to contribute to the Greek government’s debt crisis. Prior to the Olympics, Greece’s economy was already experiencing signs of recession, and the substantial costs incurred exacerbated the country’s public debt. Public debt in Vietnam, however, is not a big issue, comparatively speaking. Recent data from the , reveals a positive trend in Vietnam’s public debt-to-GDP ratio. Over the years, this ratio has embarked on a downward trajectory, reducing Vietnam’s public debt burden. Specifically, the public debt ratio has decreased from 58.3 percent of GDP in 2018 to 37.4 percent in 2022. This figure is relatively low when compared to the World Bank’s recommended safe threshold for public debt, which is set at 50 percent of GDP. Furthermore, the relatively low public debt-to-GDP ratio in Vietnam means that the country has significant headroom to borrow money for the purpose of hosting the event.

Key debt indicators, Vietnam

Criteria (percent) 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Public debt compared to total GDP 58.3 55.0 55.9 42.7 37.4
Country’s foreign debt compared to total GDP 46.0 47.1 47.9 38.1 36.1
Country’s foreign debt repayment obligations compared to total exports of goods and services 7.0 5.9 5.7 6.2 6.9
Government debt repayment obligations compared to state budget revenue 17.1 17.4 21.2 21.5 15.7
Source: Another noteworthy observation is that countries entrusted with hosting this prestigious international event often do so after experiencing significant periods of strong development. VinaCapital points out that Japan’s hosting of the Olympics coincided with the 1950’s Cold War production boom, S.Korea witnessed a remarkable transformation through dramatic political and economic regime change prior to 1988; and China’s ability to successfully handle the Asian Financial Crisis (AFC) instilled confidence in China’s economy among foreign firms leading to an influx of foreign capital. Likewise, Vietnam’s elevation of diplomatic relations with the US to a comprehensive strategic partnership is tipped to spur a wave of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country. This diplomatic achievement has captured the attention of businesses worldwide, positioning Vietnam as an attractive investment hub. As a result, an increasing number of companies are considering Vietnam as a prime investment destination.

Preparing Vietnam to host the Olympics: Key considerations

State of existing sports facilities

Hosting the Olympics requires host countries to construct or upgrade multiple stadiums and arenas to meet the rigorous standards set by the event. Despite Vietnam’s large population and strong interest in sports, particularly football, the current condition of sports facilities in the country does not adequately meet the demand. The most famous stadium in the country—My Dinh Stadium, with a capacity of over 40,000 seats—has not been well maintained and is somewhat degraded. For context, Malaysia boasts two large stadiums with capacities exceeding 80,000 people, while Indonesia possesses the Jakarta International Stadium and Stadion Gelora Bung Karno, both capable of accommodating large crowds. Surprisingly, Cambodia, with just one-sixth of Vietnam’s population, possesses two national stadiums with capacities between 50,000 to 60,000 people—the Olympic Stadium and Morodok Techo National Stadium at Phnom Penh. These examples emphasize the need for Vietnam to invest in expanding its stadium infrastructure to compete on the international stage.

Regional stadiums, capacity

Stadium Capacity Country Opened
Bukit Jalil National Stadium 85,000 Malaysia 1998
Jakarta International Stadium 82,000 Indonesia 2022
Shah Alam Stadium 80,372 Malaysia 1994
Gelora Bung Karno Stadium 77,000 Indonesia 1962
Morodok Techo National Stadium 60,000 Cambodia 2021
Phnom Penh National Olympic Stadium 50,000 Cambodia 1964
My Dinh Stadium 40,192 Vietnam 2003
The quality of Vietnam’s stadiums has also received negative comments from international observers. During a 2022 World Cup qualifier match between Vietnam and Australia at My Dinh Stadium, an Australian sports reporter referred to the stadium as a “nice cow paddock” on social media. Although criticized for the remark, it highlights the perception of Vietnam’s stadium quality in the eyes of international visitors. Furthermore, the inadequate stadium infrastructure poses challenges for hosting major events. After the successful concert of the South Korean girl group Blackpink at My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi, they expressed an intention to hold another concert for fans in Ho Chi Minh City. However, the lack of a suitable stadium prevented this concert from materializing. Vietnam’s sports facilities are struggling to keep up with demand. In order to host world-class events, Vietnam will need to invest a huge amount of money to build significant numbers of sports facilities that meet international standards.

Infrastructure

Hosting the Olympics entails more than just providing sports facilities; the host country must also meet the infrastructure standards set by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). This encompasses ensuring suitable accommodations for the thousands of personnel and representatives from participating countries. Additionally, constructing an Olympic village to house and feed athletes during the event is critical. Furthermore, the host country’s facilities must be capable of accommodating the influx of tourists from around the world who come to spectate. This necessitates meticulous planning and a forward-thinking approach. It is essential to consider that the actual construction costs may exceed initial estimates, and investing in buildings that cannot be repurposed after the event is wasteful. Moreover, host countries must prioritize enhancing their transportation infrastructure to handle the surge of athletes, tourists, and media from around the globe. This includes upgrading airports, roads, and transportation systems. An example of such investment can be seen during the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, where China dedicated to develop its driverless Fuxing bullet trains. In the context of Vietnam, where traffic congestion is a big problem, particularly in major cities, hosting the Olympics would require significant improvements in public transport services. With a high number of private vehicles like motorcycles and the absence of a subway system seen in other countries, the current infrastructure is likely not sufficient. While Vietnam has recently introduced metro systems in its two largest cities, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, these systems are still in the early stages of development and have not yet become popular modes of public transportation.

Management expertise

Hosting the Olympics is a monumental undertaking that requires a strong and capable organizing committee. The committee must possess expertise in various areas such as event management, logistics, marketing, and coordination with international sports federations and committees. For a country like Vietnam, which has not previously hosted a major international sporting event on the scale of the Olympic Games, taking on this responsibility presents unique challenges. Even regional events like the Asian Games have not been hosted in Vietnam before. The country’s experience in organizing sporting events is limited, with the SEA Games being probably the most significant event it has successfully hosted so far. While the SEA Games provided valuable experience, it is still relatively small-scale compared to the Olympics. As Vietnam prepared to host the 2021 SEA Games, it encountered its fair share of difficulties. One notable challenge was obtaining the necessary funding. Many planned activities were delayed or unable to proceed due to . This financial constraint significantly impacted the organization of the event, particularly in the early stages. However, despite these challenges, Vietnam managed to successfully host the SEA Games, showcasing its capability to organize a large-scale sporting event, albeit with certain limitations.

What does all this mean for foreign firms?

Getting Vietnam to Olympic Games hosting standard would require huge amounts of investment and would provide foreign firms with a myriad of opportunities.

Demand for high quality sports facilities

As Vietnam continues on its economic development path, the demand for high-quality sports facilities will increase. Investors can contribute to the development and improvement of sports infrastructure, including stadiums, arenas, specialized training centers, and sports complexes. These facilities can serve not only sports purposes but also be leased for various types of events, ensuring a steady stream of income for investors. In addition, major sports events generate a significant increase in demand for sports equipment, apparel, and related merchandise. Collaboration with local distributors or establishing manufacturing facilities in the country can further enhance a business’s prospects in this growing market.

Hospitality and tourism prospects

Major events like the Olympics create huge surges in tourist arrivals in host nations. Foreign hospitality companies can seize the opportunity to invest in building or upgrading hotels, resorts, restaurants, and other tourism-related infrastructure. By enhancing their accommodation and service offerings, companies can effectively cater to the growing demand for these services among both domestic and international visitors.

Building and upgrading transport infrastructure

The presence of well-developed transportation facilities quickly becomes essential for countries as they draw closer to developed economic status. Investors can play a pivotal role in infrastructure development by providing financial resources to support the construction of new transport infrastructure projects throughout Vietnam. While Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have seen significant investment and development in this sector, other cities in the country still need a lot of attention. For instance, in 2021, Da Nang City has called for capital ranging from VND 7,490 to 14,990 billion (approx. US$308 million to US$616 million) to build a railway connecting the city with the historic Hoi An town in Quang Nam province.

Conclusion

The government’s vision for Vietnam is to become an advanced nation by 2050. This ambitious goal means that within the next two decades, Vietnam should develop to the point that it has the capability to host an event of the magnitude of the Olympic Games. However, it is important to recognize that Vietnam still has substantial progress to make toward this goal. The country will need significant capital and expertise to make broad improvements across various sectors. This presents a myriad of opportunities for foreign investors.

To learn more about investing in Vietnam, contact the business advisory experts at .

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