Monster SEA Games carnival needs a trim

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WHY has the SEA Games grown into a monster carnival? Veering from being a hunting platform for the development of future sport stars in the region.

Many will point the finger to the South East Asian Games Federation (SEAGF) — the governing body which was founded in June 1959 with six founder countries — Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Malaya, Thailand and Vietnam — which has now grown to 11 — with the inclusion of Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei and Timor Leste.

What do we blame this runaway train on? For starters, Rule 34 of the SEAGF Charter clearly defines that the programme is be selected by the host.

While the main grouse is a flotilla of irrelevant sports, the first rule states: a minimum of 22 sports, with events contained therein to be determined based on the following criteria:

— 34.1: there shall be no artificial events… unless the same are already practised in the Olympic or Asian Games; — 34.2: a minimum of four NOCs must participate in a sport/event for it to be included …;

— 34.3: with the exception of Athletics, Aquatics, and Shooting, other sports shall not have more than 5 pct of the total number of events or medal tally;

— 34.4: Following the existing guidelines of Athletics and Aquatics (swimming, diving, water polo) being Compulsory Sports, with a minimum of 14 sports from Category II (35 events listed; sports in Olympics and Asian Games) and a maximum of 8 sports from Category III (15 events listed), South East Asian Games Federation Charter (as at 30 May 2010) 11 sports programme in the SEA Games should give priority or preference to sports already included in the IOC and / or OCA sports programmes.

— 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 approval…

With the rules in place to safeguard the Games from exploding, the finger now shifts to the host nation for picking winnable sports to favour itself.

What started with 12 sports in the inaugural Games in Thailand in 1959 has grown to an average of 30 sports or more. While the KL Games will see 38 sports, the highest number was in 2011 when Indonesia hosted the 26th Games with 44 sports!

The other issue is the accelerating cost for a host, where the Games reflects economic clout, with grand opening and closings. Malaysia’s budget to host both the upcoming SEA Games and Asean Para Games exceeds RM400 million.

The Philippines has just pulled out of the 2019 Games, after a two-month running war with Islamic militants. It agreed in 2015 to host the 2019 SEA Games after Brunei and Vietnam declined.

On ways to cut costs, veteran sports administrator who is also an honorary member of SEAGF, Datuk Sieh Kok Chi, suggested reducing the number of sports, stop engaging consultants and agents, early planning and using existing facilities.

Datuk A. Vaithilingam, former Selangor Schools Sports Council secretary general, said: “Hosts add too much fanfare to the Games.”

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… little known sports.”

TONY is a sports journalist with close to four decades’ experience and is passionate about local sports. He can be reached at tmariadass@gmail.com