SEA Games: A vital platform for smaller countries to excel

SEA Games: A vital platform for smaller countries to excel

The SEA Games are no Olympics - they are a comparably lesser event, their standard is weaker, their legends are less exalted across the planet, but their influence remains extraordinary. For both the entire region and small nations, they are an inspiration.

Dissect any Singaporean sporting hero and you will find his childhood link to the Games. It is where so many kids first saw athletic possibility.

Lim Teck Yin, a 10-year-old standing alongside his father, cheered local athletes in Singapore at the 1973 edition. Twelve years later, he won the first of six water polo gold medals and, in 2011, he became chief executive officer of the Singapore Sports Council.

Everywhere stories abound. In 1983, an eight-year-old boy shouted Fandi Ahmad's name at the SEA Games football final at the old National Stadium. Eventually he grew up to become a captain of Singapore called Aide Iskandar.

Ten years later, it happened again. In 1993, an 11-year-old boy watched as Josecelin Yeo collected gold in Singapore and now, 20 years later, Gary Tan - a SEA Games medal winner himself - is a Singapore swimming coach.

Every such story strengthens the relevance of these Games to the region. For all the criticism about arcane traditional sports, and its occasionally shoddy organisation, its medals still have a worthy weight and its contests still own a certain prestige.

The beauty of these Games is that their low level of entry allows even smaller nations to aspire. It is not a competition totally out of reach. They may not have the heft of an Olympics, but roars from a regional stadium - especially at a home Games - are enough for a kid to be enthralled.

Like Aide said: "Seeing your team compete on home soil, your own fans cheering them, the atmosphere is just fantastic.

"I was inspired to be like the players on the field and do my country proud."

It is this inspiration - to play sport, to compete, to win - that Myanmar is hoping for as it hosts the 27th edition of the Games.

Already the signs are heartening. Throngs of Myanmar schoolkids pack the sporting arenas around Naypyidaw, and their passion as they soak in the electric atmosphere is palpable.

Said 12-year- old student Kyi Kyi Win: "It is very exciting, with everyone cheering so loud.

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