Hosts Singapore added floorball and petanque to next year’s Southeast Asian (SEA) Games on Tuesday, but karate missed out despite offering to pay its way in, with weightlifting and wrestling also dumped due to budget constraints.
The 28th edition of the biennial multisport competition for the 11 nations in the region is to feature 36 sports and 402 events, with the organizers wary of delivering an on-budget Games after Vietnam recently pulled out of hosting the much-bigger 2019 Asian Games because of costs.
SEA Games Federation executive committee chairman Tan Eng Liang said boxing, equestrian, rowing and volleyball had also made the cut to join the original 30 sports approved at the past SEA Games in Myanmar in December last year.
The selection of sports for the event is always contentious, with the host nation allowed to pick a number of local events such as petanque, a form of boules that is popular in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
Floorball is a type of indoor hockey that originated in Europe, but is growing in popularity in Singaporean schools.
Myanmar opted to include bodybuilding, chinlone — a mix between soccer kick-ups and dancing — and the Vietnamese martial art of Vovinam when they hosted, with all three among the nine sports ditched by Singapore.
The city-state had already approved the inclusion of 10-pin bowling, softball, squash and water skiing for next year and said that they had selected sports to help boost their medal tally, as well as keeping in mind the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
“We cannot come in last, no country wants that,” SEA Games Federation Sport and Rules Committee chairman Chris Chan told reporters.
“Of the 36 sports, 34 are Asian Games sports, 24 are Olympic sports, only two are not in the two major games, floorball… and netball. The SEA Games must be an important platform for athletes to use those events to then prime themselves for the Olympics,” Chan said.
Singapore, which is to celebrate its 50th anniversary next year and is to use a soon-to-be-opened US$1 billion sports hub facility, have won four Olympic medals, with three coming in table tennis, which has appeared in every SEA Games since the inaugural 1959 edition in Bangkok.
Their only other medal came in weightlifting, but the Olympic sport was dumped despite heavy lobbying.
“We did go to a higher level to see if we could include one or two more, as the appeal was very strong for more than 36,” Tan said. “Unfortunately the main reason given to us was ‘we don’t want you to go over the budget.’”
Karate’s exit is sure to upset Singapore’s causeway neighbors Malaysia, who won seven golds in the sport at the Myanmar Games.
Tan said 15 sports had applied for the remaining spots, including chess and bridge, but none had gone to the lengths of karate, who last missed out at the 1999 Games in Brunei.
Tan said World Karate Federation president Antonio Espinos had offered to pay all costs of running the sport at the Games, but the Singaporean pointed at problems in the sport’s local governance as one of the reasons for its exclusion.
Asked if any other sport had offered to pay the running costs to be included, Tan said if he had brought up the scenario he was “sure all nine sports [who missed out on 2015] would have said yes.”
The Singapore Olympic Council vice president said he would put forward a suggestion to the SEA Games Federation that future editions have a sports cap of “up to 40,” with a greater limit on the number of regional, non-Olympic or Asian Games sports.
Cambodia are due to host the SEA Games in 2023, which would leave East Timor as the only member not to stage an edition, with Tan and Chan both stating the need to ensure the SEA Games was affordable for all members.
“Singapore is setting the way we want to do things more professionally,” Tan said.
“We hope we can set this trend. With Malaysia following us [as hosts] in 2017 we have a good chance to continue this standard,” he added.
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