Southeast Asian (SEA) 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, the 29th edition of which is underway in Malaysia, are known for their distinctive regional sports and unashamed home-nation bias.
The hosts have topped the medals table at six of the last 10 editions and Malaysia look set to finish top in Kuala Lumpur for the first time since they last hosted in 2001.
This year’s Games feature only one Olympic champion, Singapore’s US-based swimmer Joseph Schooling, reflecting Southeast Asia’s struggles on the world stage.
However, organizers said there were no plans to revise the 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. “We also have to cater for sports that are popular within the region.”
The ball-juggling sport sepak takraw played with the feet and the martial arts of pencak silat and wushu are among the sports that remain little-known outside of Asia.
This year’s 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,” Tunku Imran said. “And then you have to give some opportunity to the host country to win some medals.”
According to the 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 nation can also pick between two and eight sports out of 16 listed in a third category, which includes 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.”
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