HANOI, Vietnam – Vietnam has withdrawn as the host of the 2019 Asian Games, saying it lacked funds and the country's reputation could be at risk if things don't go smoothly.
The government's initial decision to host the games had generated little excitement domestically, and there had increasing opposition in the media and on blogs. Many questioned whether the cost — in the hundreds of millions of dollars — was worth it given the country was still struggling to emerge from the global financial crisis.
In a statement late Thursday, the government said hosting the event in Hanoi was unjustifiably expensive.
"Hosting this could help us promote the country's image and position. However if the hosting is not properly and successfully prepared, it will have the opposite effect," the statement said.
"The state budget is limited and must be prioritized for other immediate tasks."
Randhir Singh, Secretary-General of the Olympic Council of Asia, said the organization was "surprised" and had not officially been informed of the decision. He said the body would now have to decide on who would host the games.
"The matter will have to be discussed at length by the OCA," he told The Associated Press. "It's a decision which has to be taken judiciously considering various factors. We have to decide who will be able to deliver, keeping in mind the time factor."
While the OCA will have to quickly decide on a replacement host, it does have the benefit of an extra year as Hanoi was to have been the first games of a new schedule that would put the event the year ahead of the Summer Olympics.
Surabaya, Indonesia, had been the other serious bidder for 2019, while Dubai, United Arab Emirates, expressed initial interest but withdrew.
Vietnam's state controlled media praised the decision to withdraw from the games.
"A decision that wins the heart of the people," was the front page headline of the widely read Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
"The whole country welcomes the right decision of the prime minister," reader Do Quang Dan wrote to Tuoi Tre. "The country has many things to worry about.
Hoang Vinh Giang, deputy chairman of Vietnam Olympic Committee, was disappointed.
"It's very regretted that Vietnam has withdrawn from hosting the games," Giang told the AP. "This is a very good opportunity. I don't know when Vietnam will have another chance to host."
The sports ministry had budgeted $150 million for the event, but economists said the bill could be several times higher, and in line with spending levels for this year's Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, which could reportedly top $1 billion.
The OCA website still had Hanoi scheduled as the 2019 host, with a video promoting the event.
The Asian Games features similar events to the Summer Olympics but also include sports popular in Asia. More than 40 nations take part.
Associated Press reporter C. Rajshekhar Rao in New Delhi contributed to this report.