SEA Games 2015: Quality trumps quantity

SINGAPORE - There will be fewer traditional sports contested at the SEA Games next year than in the six previous editions of the biennial sports extravaganza - and that is fine among the competing nations.

In fact, delegates at the ongoing SEA Games Federation council meeting at the Raffles City Convention Centre are championing the move to focus more on Olympic and Asian Games sports, to help raise the overall standard of sports in the region.

Yesterday, the federation finalised the sports programme for the Singapore Games from June 5-16 next year, with six additional sports making the final cut.

They are boxing, equestrian, floorball, petanque, rowing and volleyball.

Of the final list of 36 sports, six (floorball, netball, pencak silat, petanque, traditional boat race and water-ski) are Category Three sports under the SEA Games Federation charter. There can be no more than eight such sports in each Games.

Only two - netball and floorball - are not contested at either the Olympic or Asian Games.

Said Indonesia Olympic Committee chairman Rita Subowo: "In London (2012 Olympics), none of the South-east Asian countries won any gold medals.

"We'd like to organise traditional sports but we have to be more focused on Olympic and Asian Games sports to be able to achieve the next level."

However, she added: "Don't close the door on traditional sports, but there should be limitations."

There were eight Category Three sports at the Myanmar Games last December, with the traditional martial art vovinam not listed in the charter. Similarly, at the 2011 Games in Indonesia, there were seven sports from Category Three, with another three (bridge, paragliding and sport climbing) not in the charter.

Malaysian Olympic Committee secretary general Sieh Kok Chi even plans to propose that each country identify a maximum of two traditional sports which they have the liberty to introduce whenever they host the Games.

He said: "Some of these traditional sports are peculiar to certain countries and are quite alien to others. It's not fair to spread them to other countries. A country should be very comfortable when it is hosting the Games."

Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) vice-president Tan Eng Liang revealed that delegates will be discussing how to keep the SEA Games successful, sustainable and manageable in the future at a congress today.

"To start with, I think we should limit the number of sports," he said, adding that the Singapore organising committee had sought to add one or two more sports to the programme but faced budgetary constraints.

"The founders of the SEA Games wanted to use it not only for unity and bonding, but also to improve the standard of sports for South-east Asian countries. I, for one, would like to go back to what our founding fathers proposed."

Already, the federation is moving forward in ensuring a dope-free Games, with next year's edition being the first to introduce blood testing, which looks for the presence of growth hormones and EPO.

SNOC secretary-general Chris Chan acknowledged that with some sports lobbying hard for inclusion up till this week, it is impossible to please everyone.

He said: "I think we've made the process very transparent. With the Olympic Games in 2016, the SEA Games is also an important platform for some to prime themselves for that."

Playing in 2015

The 36 sports that will feature in next year's SEA Games in Singapore:

•Aquatics (diving, swimming, synchronised swimming, water polo), archery, athletics, badminton, basketball, billiards and snooker, bowling, boxing, canoeing, cycling, equestrian, fencing, floorball, football, golf, gymnastics, hockey, judo, netball, pencak silat, petanque, rowing, rugby, sailing, sepak takraw, shooting, softball, squash, table tennis, taekwondo, tennis, traditional boat race, triathlon, volleyball, water-ski and wushu.

•Total number of events: 402

This article was published on April 30 in The Straits Times.

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