Friday, December 06, THE MALAY MAIL
Myanmar host the Games again after 44 years from Dec 11 to 22, although it began unofficially yesterday. The country's new capital Naypyitaw is the main venue for the Games while events will also be held in Yangon, Mandalay and Ngwe Saung Beach.
Although things are expected to be chaotic in Myanmar as they attempt to shine in the international arena just two years after the end of military rule and the lifting of Western sanctions, the Games will go on in the true spirit of sport and the people of Myanmar are likely to get pats on their backs.
It was no different when Brunei, Vietnam and Laos hosted the Games for the first time in 1999, 2003 and 2009 respectively when they were faced with many uphill tasks, but managed to pull through in the end.
Even experienced hosts like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia had had teething problems whenever they hosted the Games.
Trust me I know. I covered 12 consecutive Games from 1983 in Singapore to 2005 in Manila and every Games had its own problems. But it was a great experience soaking in the electrifying atmosphere of the Games, something money cannot buy. These are memories I will treasure for life.
The point here is that the Games help Southeast Asian countries, athletes and officials in many ways. For example, the managerial skills gained from hosting the Games prove invaluable to local sports officials when preparing for bigger international events while home athletes gain a platform to shine and achieve higher targets.
Some may argue that the Sea Games has lost its importance because many nations have already established themselves as leaders in sports and their athletes have attained high standards in the international field.
That may be so, but the Games can still be used to groom young athletes. The argument to hold the Sea Games for just under-23 athletes may hold water, but we need to look at the big picture. Yes, football in the Games is already confined to the under-23 as the sport has grown tremendously. But the same cannot be said of all sports, especially athletics.
Besides, there are enough events to expose young talent, from the Asean Schools Games, Commonwealth Youth Games, Asian Youth Games and Youth Olympics to the youth and school championships for the respective sports.
In any case, it is up to the nations or national associations of sports whether they want to send seasoned athletes or development athletes to the Games, depending on the status of the sports concerned
Although at times some host countries have too many sports and include traditional events to ensure they win extra medals for the overall tally, generally all sports included in the Sea Games are either Olympic events or those competed at the Asian or Commonwealth Games.
Statistics show that in the last seven Games, 28 Olympic sports were part of the Sea Games. And with the exception of the 1999 Brunei Games and 2009 Laos Games, there have been an average of 22 Olympic sports in the Sea Games. Of the 28 Olympic sports, 24 were included in four or more in the past seven Games.
As for non-Olympic sports, 13 were added in four or more Games to a total of 28 sports in the last seven Games. But these sports, such as billiards and snooker, tenpin bowling, karate, sepak takraw, bodybuilding, lawn bowls, squash and wushu, were also competed in the Asian or Commonwealth Games.
Thus, to say that the sports competed in the Sea Games do not serve any purpose is totally wrong.
Other areas where the Sea Games provide a training ground include media (television production), marketing, Games technology, sponsorship, merchandising and security, to name but a few.
Of the five regional Games in Asia, namely East Asia, Sea, Central Asia, West Asia and South Asia, the Sea Games is ranked second and its athletes have gone on to win Asian and Olympic medals.
Thus, with the Sea Games serving as a foundation for the ultimate goal of being the best in Asia and the world, it cannot be said that it does not serve a purpose or that it is irrelevant.
Ask veteran sports official Datuk Sieh Kok Chi — adviser to many nations that host the Sea Games, including Myanmar — and he will tell you how the Games have put Southeast Asian countries on the map over the years.
At the end of the day, how relevant the Games are to a certain sport depends on the sports associations and use it accordingly to send development or seasoned athletes.
But as long as associations do not use the Games as a holiday or biennial reward trip, the Games will continue to be relevant.
Besides, the Sea Games has proved time and again that it bridges political, religious and ethnic diversities.
So let us enjoy it and savour the moments.