Let’s make the SEA Games lean and mean
Who should take responsibility for the SEA Games having growing into a monster carnival instead of a Games as a platform for the development for future stars in the region and a Games of reputable standard?
Many will point the finger to the South East Asian Games Federation (SEAGF) – the governing body of Games which was founded in June 1959 with six founder countries – Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Malaya, Thailand and Vietnam – which has now grown to have eleven members – with the inclusion of Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei and Timor Leste.
However, the SEAGF, in their Charter and Rules under Rule 34 (Programme), have clearly defined the programme to be selected by the host of each Games.
While the main grouse of sports observers and critics is that the Games has grown too big and with some irrelevant sports being included, the programme’s first rule states:
The sports programme adopted for any one SEA Games shall consist of a minimum 22 sports, with events contained therein to be determined based on the following criteria:
34.1 there shall be no artificial events, especially for those adopted team events, unless the same are already practiced in the Olympic or Asian Games.
34.2 a minimum of four NOCs must participate in a sport/event for it to be included in the programme of the SEA Games, with a proviso to allow varying the same as and when required.
34.3 with the exception of Athletics, Aquatics, and Shooting, other sports in the SEA Games programme shall not have more than five (5%) percent of the total number of events or medal tally.
34.4 Following the existing guidelines of Athletics and Aquatics being Compulsory Sports, with a minimum of 14 sports from Category II and a maximum of 8 sports from Category III, South East Asian Games Federation Charter (As at 30 May 2010) 11 sports programme in the SEA Games should give priority or preference to those sports that are already included in the IOC and/or OCA sports programmes.
CATEGORY I: COMPULSORY SPORTS
Athletics 2. Swimming (including Diving and water polo)
CATEGORY II: SPORTS IN THE OLYMPIC GAMES AND THE ASIAN GAMES (MINIMUM 14 SPORTS)
1. Archery 2. Badminton 3. Baseball 4. Basketball 5. Billiards & Snooker 6. Bowling (Tenpin) 7. Boxing 8. Canoeing 9. Cycling 10. Equestrian & Polo 11. Fencing 12. Football 13. Golf 14. Gymnastics 15. Handball 16. Hockey 17. Judo 18. Karate-do 19. Modern Pentathlon 20. Rowing 21. Rugby 22. Sailing 23. Sepak Takraw 24. Softball 25. Soft Tennis 26. Shooting 27. Squash 28. Table Tennis 29. Taekwondo 30. Tennis 31. Triathlon 32. Volleyball 33. Weightlifting 34. Wrestling 35. Wushu
CATEGORY III: OTHER SPORTS (MAXIMUM 8 SPORTS)
1. Arnis 2. Bodybuilding 3. Chess 4. Dance sport 5. Fin swimming 6. Lawn Bowls 7. Kempo 8. Muay 9. Netball 10. Petanque 11. Pencak Silat 12. Shuttlecock 13. Traditional Boat Race 14. Water skiing 15. Vovinam
34.6 Each adopted sport must belong to an existing International Sport Federation (IF) and/or an Asian Sport Federation (ASF)
34.7 The Organising Committee may hold as a “Demonstration Sports”, one (1) sport, subject to the approval of the Executive Committee
With the rules in place to safeguard the Games from turning into a carnival and to keep in line to keep the Games respectable, the Games have still become huge with many irrelevant sports.
Basically, it is the host nation who is to be blamed for increasing the number of sports, especially sports which they can win medals and tailoring the programme, especially increasing the number of events in their sports, to favour the host nation.
What started with 12 sports in the inaugural Games in Thailand in 1959 has grown to an average of 30 sports or more in recent Games.
While in Malaysia next month will see 38 sports contested, the highest number of sports in a Games was when Indonesia hosted the 26th Games in 2011, where 44 sports were competed!
Maye the SEAGF may want to consider reviewing their Category III in their programme of other sports, from their current minimum of two to eight to a maybe just two or maximum four, to keep the Games relevant to give priority to sports competed at the Olympic and Asian Games.
The other issue which is concerning about the Games is the accelerating cost of hosting the Games.
What used to be Games organised at minimum cost without all the fanfares, the Games has become an avenue to showcase the nation’s ability to make the Games grand scale with a lot of money spent on opening and closing ceremonies.
For instance Malaysia’s budget to host both the SEA Games and ASEAN Para Games exceeds RM400 million.
And it is no surprise that we find countries withdrawing from hosting the Games after initial acceptance according to the rotation basis of hosts, as economic situations and other priorities issues of utilising available funds force them rethink.
The Philippines has pulled out of hosting the 2019 Games citing the government’s focus on rebuilding a city ravaged by a two-month battle between security forces and Islamic militants.
The country’s sports officials formally abandoned their plans to host the games after a series of meetings with President Rodrigo Duterte, Philippine Sports Commission chairman William Ramirez said.
The Philippines agreed in 2015 to host the 2019 SEA Games after two other countries, Brunei and Vietnam, declined.
There have several suggestions by sports observers and veteran sports administrators to reduce costs of hosting the Games.
Veteran sports administrator who is also an honorary member of the SEAGF, Datuk Sieh Kok Chi suggested reducing the number of sports, stop engaging consultants and agents, early planning, using existing sports facilities and finally decide on an affordable budget and work within this budget with strict controls.
Datuk Vaithilingam Ampalavanar, former Selangor Schools Sports Council secretary-general, said: “Hosts add a lot of fanfare to the Games which was not necessary and can help cut overall cost.”
He asked if show case of entertainment just to satisfy the Tourism and Cultural divisions was necessary.
“Do entertainment shows in the world organise sports for their ceremonies,” he asked.
“Do International Conferences organise such extravagant ceremonies?
Why only for International Sports? For athletes the Games is their priority, not musicians and dancers,” he asserted.
He pleaded: “I am not exaggerating, please have only sports and save sports! Not promote culture, entertainment and tourism.”
Maybe sports has evolved and sports these days entails sports tourism, but still it can be done in moderation and not spend exorbitant sums of money on entertainment.
Another observer said: “It seems to me the primary objective of any host in the SEA Games is to win the most gold medals! Hence the games are enlarged to accommodate little known sports so that the host is strong.”
Datuk Dina Rizal, who has been associated with sports for decades said:
“Change the mind-set to produce Sea champions not national heroes.
“Forget this patronising attitude each time a host nation organises SEA Games to include sports to please host nation and losing the Olympic and Asian targets.”
Indeed it is time to make the Sea Games more relevant to the development of sports in the region to make headway at the Asian level for starters.