The Malaysian organizers of the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games on Aug. 19-31 made it clear last July that their choice of 38 sports and 405 events was non-appealable, meaning whatever noise Filipino sports officials are now making to protest the exclusion of women’s boxing, women’s weightlifting and two weight divisions in men’s boxing is just a lot of hot air.
The period of appeal and protest was from February to July last year. Malaysia had earlier struck out fencing, triathlon, judo and marathon but they were later included in the calendar because of crafty lobbying by certain quarters. Besides, it would’ve been downright scandalous to bump off those Olympic events. Unfortunately, the events where the Philippines traditionally dominates didn’t make it to the final lineup. It’s crazy that at this point in the preparations for the SEA Games, some Filipino sports officials are voicing their protest in media over the exclusion of favorite events. They should wake up to reality. If they had in mind to protest or appeal, that should’ve been done much earlier.
The exclusion of women’s weightlifting disenfranchises Hidilyn Diaz, the country’s silver medalist at the Rio Olympics. At the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore, weightlifting as a sport wasn’t in the calendar at all. So this year’s conclave will welcome the sport back but only the men. In Singapore, there were 11 gold medals in boxing, including four for women. This year, it’s down to six men’s divisions – lightflyweight (49 kilograms), flyweight (62), bantamweight (56), lightwelterweight (64), middleweight (75) and lightheavyweight (81).
Gone are the lightflyweight, flyweight, bantamweight and featherweight divisions for women. The Philippines collected a gold, two silvers and a bronze from women’s boxing in Singapore. Also missing in Kuala Lumpur will be men’s boxing in the lightweight and welterweight divisions which would’ve easily been dominated by Filipinos. Rio Olympic lightweight Charly Suarez and 2015 SEA Games welterweight gold medalist Eumir Marcial would’ve run away with the gold.
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ABAP executive director Ed Picson said he was told Malaysia had initially thought of scrapping boxing. “Malaysia was shut out in boxing in Singapore so they had no inclination to stage it this year,” said Picson. “They eventually took out the four women’s and two men’s events so the gold medals in boxing went from 11 to six. Maybe, we should be lucky that at least, there will still be boxing in Kuala Lumpur.” Another sport that suffered a slash was billiards and snooker which went from 10 gold medals in 2015 to seven, excluding the women’s division. The Philippines would’ve also struck paydirt in women’s billiards and snooker.
Picson said hardballing the Malaysians proved to be disastrous for backers of the Olympic sport rowing. “I was told the rowing officials were lobbying for more events and told the Malaysians to take it or leave it,” said Picson. “Well, the Malaysians decided to leave it so there won’t be rowing in the SEA Games this year.”
Rowing won’t be the only Olympic sport out of the next SEA Games calendar. Wrestling, canoeing, baseball and softball have also been scratched out. Instead, the Malaysians included indoor and ice hockey, figure skating, short track speedskating and cricket.
The SEA Games is notorious for hosts manipulating the sports calendar to suit their taste, often at the expense of the Olympic spirit. For instance, when Myanmar hosted in 2013, the calendar left out tennis and gymnastics but included kenpo, vovinam and chilone. In 2015, weightlifting got the boot. In 2011, Indonesia brought in wallclimbing, roller sport, bridge and paragliding as medal events to the consternation of Olympic purists and sports scholars.
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POC first vice president Joey Romasanta said he was approached by local Indian residents about forming a national team for cricket to compete in the coming SEA Games. “First, we have no NSA for cricket,” he said. “Then, I’m not sure if those who offered to play for us are Filipino passport holders. There’s also the provision that in an organization, there is a limit of 40 percent foreign ownership. So definitely, we won’t be participating in cricket in Kuala Lumpur.”
About 6,000 athletes from 11 countries are expected to compete in the coming SEA Games. Malaysia hasn’t hosted the biennial competition since 2001 when it took the overall championship. Indonesia tops the standings with 10 overall titles in 28 stagings. Thailand is next with seven. The Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam have won one each.
It’s no coincidence that the only overall championships of the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam came when they hosted. That’s what makes the SEA Games a farce. The hosts make hometown cooking an art and conspire to create an edge in bowling over the other countries with some shrewd backroom maneuvers. The spirit of clean and honest competition is lost in the din of all the horsetrading, influence-peddling, politicking and twisting of arms that are now part of SEA Games tradition.