Myanmar needs to remember Games is an Asean event
Dropping of popular sports has upset some states, competitors
The festive anticipation towards the South East Asian Games is always tainted by chagrin as the host nations often raise questions about the choice of sports that they plan to include or drop from the event.
This year, the choice of sports has become an issue again as host nation Myanmar reportedly plans to drop some popular sports such as bowling, tennis, beach volleyball, gymnastics and field hockey from the event and include some local sports in the games. The 27th SEA Games will be held in the new capital Nay Pyi Taw from December 11 to 20.
Usually, the host nation will choose local sports to raise their chance of collecting more gold medals to buoy national feeling. But the omission of popular sports from the event can affect the region's opportunity to elevate the games to a world-class level. If top athletes lose the chance to practice their skills at regional level they can lose an essential element for their preparations for competitive international championships.
The SEA Games event is meant to allow Myanmar to showcase the country's progress in opening up to the world given moves to reduce the country's isolation in recent decades. The hosting of the biggest regional sport event symbolises the new face of Myanmar, which is set to become an active member in the regional and international community.
Myanmar has made considerable progress in terms of construction of transport routes and facilities to support the SEA Games event. Nonetheless, when the host announces the list of the sports up for competition, some have been disappointed because highly popular games such as tennis and bowling appear to have been chopped out without justified reason.
The Myanmar officials claimed they dropped beach volleyball because the sport's outfits were not suitable for Myanmar culture. Popular sports such as tennis and bowling, which have been traditionally included in the SEA Games, are also set to be excluded. In their place the Myanmar authorities plan to include 17 local sports and non-Olympic games. The changes are so drastic that some countries plan to ask Myanmar authorities to revise the games that they will include.
Of course, the host nation is entitled to select the sports. And this is not the first that time that host nations faced questions over their decision to select sports for the competition. For instance, some hosts have opted to select local sports in which their athletes are good, so that the hosts stand a better chance to collect more gold medals.
But this practice should end. Host nations should select the sports according to their merit. After all, the inclusion of the sports is relevant to the question over what would constitute a regional sport event. Like any international event with Olympic sports, the SEA Games is the biggest regional event and should cover a wide range of popular sports to make the games appealing and popular for international fans. This is not to mention the fact that the games must be fair and adhere to desirable sportsmanship.
The selection of sports can be justified by many reasons. For instance, some sports may be considered elitist and not widely popular such as golf, equestrian events or sailing. Or, professional tennis players may prefer to play in commercial tournaments to fetch more lucrative deals from sponsors.
But the SEA Games event is supposed to reach out to people in the region to inspire ASEAN people and the future generation, unlike other tournaments in which accessibility may be limited due to commercial deals. Therefore, the existence and inclusion of games is essential to raise the standard of the games, to inspire people and make the Games appealing for 600 million spectators.
After all, the ultimate goal of the event is to celebrate humanity, discipline, determination, tolerance and excellence in line with SEA Games' goal to celebrate the unity and diversity of people in this region and that we have a shared vision and future.