The Philippines in the Southeast Asian Games
For the last decade, the Philippines has been on a steady decline in the Southeast Asian Games.
Once a frontrunner in the region’s biennial sporting meet, the Philippines has never finished higher than fifth place since topping the SEA Games in 2001 in Manila.
But the Philippines hasn’t always been in the bottom half of the 11-nation competition, where medals for at least 30 different team and individual sports are being disputed.
When the country started sending athletes to the SEA Games in 1977, when this multi-sport event had just changed its name from Southeast Asian Peninsular Games, it immediately finished third in the medal race in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia behind Indonesia and Thailand.
It was a golden age for sports for the Filipinos. From that year until 2003, the Philippines only failed to crack the top three in the medal race five out of the next 13 editions of the biggest sporting event in the region.
When Manila hosted the SEA Games in 2005—a first since 1991—the Philippines got the chance to field in the biggest delegation yet with over 700 athletes and that yielded the country’s best finish ever at no. 1 with a 113-84-94 gold-silver-bronze medal haul.
That, though, turned out to be the last the sport-loving Filipinos would taste the podium in the medal standings.
What followed was a disheartening stretch in the history of Philippine Sports.
Despite sending 620 athletes to Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand in the 2007 edition of the regional games, the Philippines shockingly dropped from first to sixth in a dismal showing with a 41-91-96 medal tally.
Since then, the size of the Philippine delegation has fluctuated from as low as 148 to as big as 512 athletes but the results remained disappointing.
It didn’t get any better for the country in 2009 in Vientiane, Laos. With just 153 Filipino athletes competing in 25 sports, they only garnered 38 gold, 35 silver and 51 bronze medals to wind up fifth overall.
In contrast, the Filipino delegation ballooned to 512 two years after in Jakarta, Indonesia but botched the goal to fare better and instead settled for sixth place with only 36 golds, 56 silvers and 77 bronzes.
Another lean PH delegation was sent to Naypyitaw, Myanmar in 2013 after Philippine sports officials were irked by the host country’s cherry-picking of sports to be played–dropping main stream events and including obscure sports.
Unsurprisingly, the Philippines wound up sixth among 11 nations with 29 gold, 36 silver and 66 bronze medals.
The country’s place in the medal standings remained unchanged in the 2015 Singapore SEA Games despite packing a relatively-large group composed of 472 Filipino athletes.
It was a frustrating showing for the Filipinos, who only managed 29 gold, 36 silver, 66 bronze medals to fall far behind fifth placer Indonesia (47-61-74 G-S-B) in the medal count.
This year’s Philippine team to Malaysia is hoping to finally change that.
There will be 493 Filipino athletes who will be giving it all in the hopes of giving the country an improved standing in Kuala Lumpur, which is hosting the event for the sixth time.
The Philippines has committed athletes to 37 sports with a target of at least 50 gold medals—which hasn’t been done since 2005. The country’s best medal haul in the last 10 years is at 41 in 2007.
It may remain a tall order to find a place at the top, but the Filipinos are fed up of being on the outside looking in in the competition they once dominated and that may be enough motivation to finally end the slump in the SEA Games.
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