REPORTS from Myanmar, the host of the 27th SEA Games this December, reveal that the Philippines will be unable to defend many of the gold medals it won in the Jakarta games two years ago. This is not exactly good news for a country bent on improving its medal finish in these regional games and quieting criticism that sports development is going neither here or there.
Each host is allowed to develop a program of its own with the permission of the SEA Games Federation. Very often facilities and logistics determine if a sport is included or not. Sadly, gymnastics often gets the ax because of the number of apparatuses needed for a full competition. Olympic core events like athletics and swimming remain untouched because these are staples of any multisport regional competitions.
But sports where the host country can dominate or pick up several medals to improve its chances in the medal race are often added. These are usually games that are indigenous to a country or section of the region or may have some following. We’ve seen seemingly unheard of events like petanque, a sport similar to lawn bowls and martial arts like vovinam and kenpo included every now and then. Arnis, which has its roots in the Philippines, made it to the Manila SEA Games in 2005.
A lack of consistency in determining medal counts over the years occurs each time. In one staging, a host may be in the top three of the medal tally but will drop dramatically to the lower rungs because the sports it excelled in are no longer in the schedule in the next games.
Maybe the time has come to be more strict, regular and consistent with the medal tally, which is a barometer of sports programs and a yardstick for the media to size up a country’s sports strengths and shortcomings. Perhaps beginning in Myanmar, only sports in the Olympic program should be considered in the gold medal count. These include events like athletics, swimming, shooting, boxing, equestrian, football, basketball, taekwondo and other Olympic disciplines. It may result in a thinner tally but may be more indicative of the state of Olympic sports in each country.
Being at the heart of the Olympics, athletics should always be counted and I am pretty sure there are sufficient facilities in all the SEA Games countries for aquatics. Save for equestrian and shooting, most other sports can be played in multi-purpose halls. Local or regional sports can still be accommodated to insert alternative sporting color in the games. A separate medal count can be done for these events but only the Olympic sports should matter in the final medal count.
The SEA Games is already being harshly criticized as regional intramurals whose athletic performances are below Asian and Olympic norms. Nevertheless, staging the games is still vital to our portion of the planet where cultural economic and political ties are so closely linked.
It’s really getting out of hand. Every country tries to add sports they can dominate and removes those where others are good at. A more consistent and reliable way of determining how well a country finishes in the medal race is long overdue.