When hosts maximise chances of gold medals

MYANMAR - I was blessed with the opportunity to cover the 27th SEA Games in both the former and present capital cities of Myanmar.

The difference between the bustling Yangon and the ghostly Naypyitaw is like day and night.

Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, is a metropolis of over five million people and continues to be the main commercial centre of Myanmar.

Teeming with colonial buildings, golden-domed pagodas, mosques, roads choked with traffic jams and street hawkers, the city is a hive of round-the-clock activity. Yangon reminds me very much of Bangkok, minus the monster-sized shopping malls.

In contrast, Naypyitaw is the spanking new city with mega buildings and a 12-lane highway. But as my colleagues based in Naypyitaw have groused, there is nothing much to do or any interesting places to visit in the administrative capital.

The roads are deserted most of the time, regardless whether it is day or night.

Naypyitaw is populated by migrants, who are mostly from Yangon, and even the Games volunteers were shipped from the former capital city for the duration of the Games.

Many locals I came across in Yangon (who could converse in English) were disappointed that Yangon, which hosted the Games twice in 1961 and 1969, was only awarded a handful of sports this time around despite being the biggest city in Myanmar.

But then, it is the prerogative of the Myanmar government and organising committee to hold the Games anywhere they please.

The same is true in deciding which sports to host. Apart from a handful of core sports like athletics, aquatics, football and shooting, the host country can pick and choose their own sports for a SEA Games.

So, when Singapore, host of the 2015 SEA Games, released its tentative list of 30 sports, there was a furore in the Malaysian camp.

One of the sports left out of the list is karate, which has just delivered a whopping seven gold medals for Malaysia in Myanmar.

As expected, the Malaysian Karate-do Federation (Makaf) are unhappy.

The Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) have pledged to seek the reinstatement of Malaysia's golden goose during the next SEA Games Federation meeting.

Indonesia and Thailand are also affected as weightlifting and muay are not on the list either.

There is no point blaming Singapore of unfairness because they are just trying to maximise their chances of winning gold medals on their own turf.

What's all the fuss about, since the other countries, including Malaysia, are also guilty of doing the same?

In the 2001 Kuala Lumpur Games, we introduced lawn bowls to our non-Commonwealth neighbours.

Two years later in Vietnam, shuttlecock kicking was included. But, of all the sports introduced by the SEA Games host countries, ballroom dancing at the Manila Games 2005 has to take the cake as being the most ridiculous - and for being considered a sport in the first place.

Two years ago, Indonesia included paragliding and wall climbing. Both sports offered a combined 22 gold medals and played their part in helping the hosts top the medal standings.

In Myanmar, we have chinlone, a traditional sport which is akin to a crossover between sepaktakraw bulatan and street dancing.

To this end, I salute Singapore for coming up with a list which mostly includes either sports contested at the Olympic or Asian Games levels, or those that are popular and widely played by countries in the region.

May the likes of chinlone, ballroom dancing, shuttlecock kicking, fin swimming and bridge not be seen again at a SEA Games competition.

For the record, the Singapore 2015 Games' tentative list includes aquatics, athletics, sailing, table tennis, canoeing, bowling, wushu, fencing, netball, gymnastics, billiards and snooker, hockey, softball, waterskiing, golf, football, shooting, badminton, cycling, tennis, pencak silat, sepaktakraw, rugby, basketball, traditional boat race, archery, triathlon, judo, taekwondo and squash.