SEA Games organizers back tailoring sports to suit host country
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Southeast Asian Games organizers have given their strong backing to keeping home-grown sports like sepak takraw - as well as the policy of tailoring the program to suit the host country.
The biennial Games, whose 29th edition is underway in Malaysia, are known for their distinctive regional sports and unashamed home-nation bias.
The hosts have topped the medals table at 6 of the last 10 editions, and Malaysia look set to finish top in Kuala Lumpur - for the first time since they last hosted the Games in 2001.
The current Games feature only one Olympic champion, Singapore's US-based swimmer Joseph Schooling, reflecting Southeast Asia's struggles on the world stage.
But Games organizers said there were no plans to revise the SEA Games' approach of showcasing colorful regional pursuits such as pencak silat to focus more closely on Olympic sports.
"The Olympic sports are very, very important, but some countries don't have facilities for many of the Olympic sports," said SEA Games Federation president Tunku Imran Tuanku Ja'afar.
"So yes, we will certainly have Olympic sports where we want to do well in Southeast Asia... but we also have to cater for sports that are popular within the region."
Ball-juggling sport sepak takraw, played with the feet and a rattan ball, and the martial arts of pencak silat and wushu are among the disciplines that remain little-known outside of Asia.
The current, 11-nation SEA Games also feature lawn bowls, petanque, Muay Thai boxing and figure skating among their diverse schedule of 38 sports.
"Sepak takraw is very much a regional sport and very popular, so we have to ensure that those sports are properly covered," said Tunku Imran.
"And then you have to give some opportunity to the host country to win some medals."
According to the SEA Games charter, athletics and aquatics, which includes swimming and diving, are compulsory, and the hosts then choose at least 14 sports from a list of 38 which feature at the Olympics or Asian Games.
The home country can also pick between two and eight sports out of 16 listed in a third category, which includes the Southeast Asian favorites.
"We try to do a balance of what's compulsory, what's on the program of the Olympic Games and Asian Games," said Low Beng Choo, secretary of the Games' sports and technical committee.
"But we also give the host country an opportunity to choose the regional or the sub-regional sports that are good for the host country.” – Rappler.com