Sea Games reduced to a carnival

The Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) must stop groaning over the omission of several gold medal prospect sports by hosts Vietnam for the 31st Hanoi Sea Games next year.

Every host nation has done the same with the aim of topping the medals tally.

It is the norm for the hosts to include sports that they have an advantage over to win medals and eliminate disciplines they are weak in.

Hanoi has adhered to Rule 34 of the Southeast Asian Games Federation (SEAGF) charter which defines that the Games programme is to be selected by the host.

When Malaysia hosted the Games in 2017, they did the same by including sports they had medal winning prospects, staging 404 events in 38 sports much to the frustration of other countries.

Malaysia finished champions with 144 gold, 92 silver and 86 bronze medals.

While the main moan is a surfeit of irrelevant sports, Rule 34 states that a minimum of 22 sports, with events contained therein must be determined based on the following criteria:

34.1: There shall be no artificial events unless these are in the Olympic or Asian Games.

34.2: A minimum of four national olympic councils must participate in a sport/event for it to be included.

34.3: Except for athletics, aquatics, and shooting, other sports shall not have more than five percent of the total number of events or medal tally.

34.4: A minimum of 14 sports from Category II (35 events listed in Olympics and Asian Games) and a maximum of eight sports from Category III (15 listed events).

It is mandatory that 11 of the total number are Olympic and/or Asiad sports.

34.6 Each sport must belong to an existing international sports federation and/or an Asian sports federation.

34.7 The organising committee may hold one demonstration sport.

Hanoi has proposed 36 sports (two compulsory sports, 29 under category two, and five under category three). Kurash and kickboxing are not in the SEAGF charter.

At the three-day SEAGF meeting involving the 11 members via video conferencing on Wednesday, Malaysia proposed the inclusion of 11 more sports, while the others added another 11.

Malaysia requested for indoor hockey, tenpin bowling, sailing, cricket, skateboarding, sambo, floorball, netball, lawn bowls, squash, and rugby sevens.

The others asked for muay, triathlon, taekwondo, traditional boat race, jiu-jitsu, esports, arnis, obstacle course, kempo, teqball and soft tennis.

As a decision will be made at the next council meeting in November, lobbying for support will be intensified as each proposed sport needs the backing of a minimum of four countries to make the Games.

The Sea Games has no limit to the number of sports to be contested as this can be decided by the host nation subject to approval by SEAGF.

When the Philippines hosted the Games last year, they had 56 sports and 530 events – the highest in the Games history – and they emerged champions with 149 gold, 117 silver, and 121 bronze medals.

The Sea Games, originally known as the SEAP Games with 12 sports in the first edition in 1959, has gradually lost its glitz and is starting to look like a carnival.

While there are conflicting views on the issue, it cannot be denied that the host nation wants to win the most medals any which way.

One way to stop the Games from becoming a bigger joke would be to turn it into a development platform and stick to Olympics and Asian Games sports.

Malaysia is mulling sending Malaysia Games (Sukma) champions to Hanoi with a mix of senior campaigners.

The OCM must, however, make a stand whether they are for an Under-23 Games or if they are still obsessed with gold medals.

Football is already confined to players under 23 years old.

The accelerating costs for the host nation are worrying. For one, the show of one-upmanship with grand opening and closing ceremonies is a supposed reflection of economic clout.

The money spent on these silly ceremonies could be used for the development of sports in the host nation.

Even if it becomes a stage for development, the Sea Games will continue to benefit athletes and officials who have over the years achieved loftier targets internationally.

Having been to 16 Sea Games as a journalist and media official since 1983 in Singapore, I have seen the best and worst of the editions.

While it might have been a great experience, the Games has overgrown its purpose and importance and a serious review is in order.

There’s a problem though: SEAGF officials tend to indulge in the practice of “you scratch my back and I scratch yours”, and therein lies the danger of the Games morphing into a monster circus.


The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.