SEA Games suggestions

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

The Southeast Asian Games end with Vietnam romping off with the overall title. As of yesterday, the hosts already had more than double the gold medals of runner-up Thailand, while the Philippines was fighting for fourth with Singapore, but with many more silvers and bronzes. However, something should be done to de-emphasize every host country’s overwhelming advantage, and give the biennial tournament more personality. Here are a few suggestions, for the region and specifically for the Philippines.

A unified schedule. The core sports such as athletics and swimming make up roughly half of the slate of every SEA Games. This is its most identifiable similarity with higher competitions like the Asian Games and the Olympics, and is a good gauge of how well ASEAN countries would do at the next level. It may not be possible, but there should be a formula for scheduling the events in such a way as to not deprive specific athletes of clear chances at multiple medals. Time and time again, we’ve seen swimmers and sprinters sacrifice some of their events simply because their schedules are packed too closely together. There has to be a way to democratize this so as not to favor host nations.

Regional sports. So far, the SEA Games has been consistent in promoting some southeast Asian sports more than others. Sepak takraw, for example, is an identifiable Malay sport that is played a lot in the region (and the Philippines does well in it). Pencak silat is another, though not as well known. In a previous piece, this writer mentioned how arnis is only included in the calendar when the SEA Games are in the Philippines. The same happened with tarung derajat in Indonesia. Perhaps the SEA Games Federation can allow one indigenous sport per country to balance out its schedule.

Fixing the number of events. The number of medals and weight categories for certain sports seems to constantly change. In 2005, dancesport was only worth two gold medals in the SEA Games. Since then, it has been assigned one medal per dance. This puts tremendous control in the hands of whoever can influence the judges. Combat sports sometimes have higher weight classes, sometimes they don’t. In the cases of global shifts such as in weightlifting, everyone abides by the International Federation’s rules. Other than that, there should be an unbending standard.

Lastly, if all this happens, the host country should be given a limit on the number of its own sports that it can add, and the number of sports that it can remove. We’ve seen events that were added that had only only four countries participating, simply to fulfill the bare minimum (there are often two bronze medals in many events). The host can be allowed some advantage, but not too much. Why bother joining if you already know who’s going to win? Why not just mail them the medals and save everyone the effort and cost?

The SEA Games have a tremendous potential to be much, much more if they make parity the priority, not showing off. That went out of style after the tit-for-tat Olympic boycotts of the 1980’s.


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