Friday, February 26, 2016

Much ado about nothing


In an overzealous desire to finish at the top in the 19th SEA Games, Malaysia as hosts dropped several disciplines from the initial list of 34 sports, besides excluding five sports.
But the announcement by Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) president Tunku Tan Sri Imran Tuanku Ja'afar, after chairing the OCM Technical and Sports Committee’s meeting last week, drew fire from Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin. He claimed that OCM had undermined his role as the chairman of the 2017 Kuala Lumpur Sea Games organising committee.
Although he had endorsed the list of sports, he said he did not give the go-ahead for the announcement.
But Tunku Imran had made the announcement on the basis that OCM are the governors of sports in the country, especially the multi-sports Games, under the jurisdiction of the Olympic Council of Asian and International Olympics Council.
Besides, Tunku Imran explained that the initial list had to be announced before the first series of SEA Games Federation (SEAGF), which was held over two days and ended on Wednesday in Kuala Lumpur.
This was to enable the delegates to study the list, discuss it and make recommendations and appeals first to the SEAGF sports and rules committee, then the SEAGF executive meeting and finally the SEAGF council meeting on Wednesday morning.
Before announcing the initial 34 sports and 342 events, Tunku Imran had made it clear that it was only an initial list that was based on criteria that were in place and that appeals were welcome. He said all indications were that more sports and events will be included in the final list, which will only be announced at the next SEAGF meeting to be held in Kuala Lumpur on July 13 and 14.
It was the same when Singapore hosted the Games last year. They announced an initial list of 30 but finally hosted 36 sports and 402 events.
Besides wanting to organise the best SEA Games ever in 2017 and become overall champions in the gold medal tally, the criteria considered for the list announced included:
·        The strength of the National Sports Association (NSA) - its governance and policymaking structure, management and administrative and financial structure;
·        The availability of technical knowledge and officials to organise the sport; the NSA's development and training programme over the past four years and next three years;
·        NSA’s ability to identify athletes and their achievements over the past two SEA Games (with statistics and records); having the athletes to participate in 2017 SEA Games (with statistics and supporting documents);
·        The ranking of the athletes in Southeast Asia and the ranking of other  athletes in the region;
·        Appeal and popularity of the sport in Malaysia and elsewhere in the region and availability of venues and cost of organisation.
Sadly, several NSAs did not furnish the full details and just wanted their sports or events to be included. There were even some NSAs who threatened to take their case to the sports minister if their sport was dropped.

But with an avenue to appeal, there was no need for the national associations and member SEAGF countries to push the panic button.
At the SEAGF meeting, which ended on Wednesday, there were already 40 verbal appeals, of which many were for traditional sports. All appeals are to be submitted in writing to the Malaysian SEA Games Organising Committee (MASOC) by mid-March.
OCM also adhered to the SEAGF Charter and Rules where it clearly states of three category of sports for the Games:
·        Category 1 - compulsory sports (athletics and aquatics which include swimming, diving and water polo as compulsory disciplines as synchronised swimming as optional)
·        Category 2 - sports in the Olympics and Asian Games where a minimum of 14 must be included
·         Category 3 - other sports – a minimum of two and a maximum of eight – which mainly are traditional sports.
In addition each sport adopted must belong to an existing International Sport Federation and/or an Asian Sport Federation.
The organising committee may hold as a ‘demonstration sports’, one sport only but subject to the approval of the SEAGF executive committee.
The fact that the delegates from 10 member countries (besides Malaysia) had unanimously endorsed the initial 34 sports and 342 sports on Wednesday at the SEAGF Council meeting, underlined that there was harmony among the member countries and respected the host nation.
However, it is fact that the initial list announced is lopsided in favouring Malaysia and has putting member nations at disadvantage and surely the true sportsmanship of the Games had taken a back seat.
But this is a normal scene at the Games when the host nation will manipulate the sports and events to place themselves in the best position either to finish tops in the final medal tally or at worst achieve their best ever medal finish in the Games.
When Myanmar hosted the Games for the first time in 2013 they finished second with a total haul of 86 gold medal behind champions Thailand (107). But at the next Games in Singapore last year, Myanmar could only muster 12 gold medals and finished 7th!
Singapore as host finished second with 84 gold medals while the Thais were the champions again with 95 gold medals.
Indonesia as host in 2011 won a whopping 182 gold medals, while Vietnam as host in 2009 finished second with 83 gold medal, Philippines emerged tops with 113 gold medal as host in 2005 and Vietnam were champions when they hosted in 2003 with 158 gold medals.
Malaysia was no different when it last hosted the Games in 2001 when it emerged champions with 111 gold medals.
Only Thailand is a powerhouse no matter where the Games is hosted having emerged champions 13 times since Sea Games made its debut as Seap Games in 1959 and more often than not finishing second or third overall most of the other times.
Indonesia is another nation who have a good track record in the Games having emerged champions ten times.
Malaysia have time and again complained of the unfairness when other countries host and now as host we are no different.
Dropping eight events each from athletics and swimming and ten events from shooting will certainly reflect badly on Malaysia being unsporting.
There is plenty of room to make the list of sports and events more attractive and less one-sided and it is hoped that true sportsmanship will displayed by Malaysia in the end.

It is learnt that marathon will definitely be back on the athletics list and there is even a move to have a marathon run for the public at the same time.

Meanwhile, the misunderstanding between the sports minister and OCM is unhealthy.

Certainly, it can be resolved through discussion because the ultimate goal of both is the same – to organise the best-ever Games and emerge as champions.

Besides, by taking OCM to task for various reasons, including telling them that their judgement of the selection of sports for the Games was poor, was in bad taste. This could be seen as government interference, which IOC will not take lightly.

Khairy may be a busy man with a tight schedule but if he had attended the SEAGF dinner on Tuesday, he could have met the delegates from the ten countries, got their feedback and won them over with his charisma. This s a missed opportunity that could have assisted Malaysia in finalising the programme they desired for the Games.

At the end of the day, it is the prerogative of the host nation to finalise the list, subject to the support of the SEAGF council.

But the question we must ask is, do we want to become overall champions through a ‘tailored’ list of sports and events and take pride in that or compete on a level playing field and achieve whatever best results we are capable of through fair and true sportsmanship?

TONY is a sports
journalist with more than
three decades of experience
and is passionate about
local sports.
He can be reached at
Twitter: @tmariadass​​​

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