2013 SEA Games, Lesson Learned

Matthew Hanzel Avatar

The 27th SEA Games has just been closed in Myanmar, with Thailand once again showing who are the masters of the region by becoming the grand champions with 107 gold medals. There are, of course, some lessons that can be learned from this SEA Games, especially facing the next iteration of the regional multi-event competition in Singapore in 2015, and this post will focus on those lessons.

Countries fare best when they host the games

Since 1999, in most cases a country will fare best when becoming the host for the games. By saying ‘best’ though, not necessarily saying that they will become the grand champions. What I am trying to say is that they will get their highest (or rather, higher) rank in the medal tally when they become host.

For instance, Brunei, in which Bandar Seri Begawan hosts the 20th SEA Games back in 1999. Brunei went into 7th place in the medal tally, with a whooping 4 golds, 12 silvers, and 31 bronzes–a feat they cannot replicate in the next SEA Games iterations (in 2013, they are dead last). That applies also to Malaysia (2001, first), Vietnam (2003), the Philippines (2005, first), Lao PDR (2009, seventh), and Indonesia (2011, first).

But wait. Since 1999? Okay, more on that later.

Not even the EU can do this

Okay, this may not be the fairest of assessments. ASEAN, of course, only has 10 countries (11, if we are talking about the national olympic committees, which include Timor Leste’s), while European Union has more than 30 countries. Yet, if you notice, no European countries (at least as far as I know) can pull a true multi-event sporting competition like the SEA Games. Even less developing countries such as the Lao PDR can pull this off!

Of course, you may argue that the European Union has the best single-event competitions, such as the European Cup. They also have athletics competitions. But no, no multi-event competitions. ASEAN, on the other hand, has some single-event competitions, the AFF Cup being one good example. Perhaps in this area, ASEAN is doing better than the EU!

Indonesia’s post-power syndrome?

If there’s something that holds true–though not explicit enough–is the fact that Indonesia always want to exert their (perceived) status as the ‘de facto leader’ of the region–a status given by the fact of its great population, total area, and economy. As a matter of fact, since the first iteration of the modern SEA Games in 1977 until 1999 (here’s where the 1999 thing comes), Indonesia becomes the grand champions in all but three iterations (all to Thailand, in 1985 when they hosted the SEA Games, 1995 also when they hosted the games, and 1999 in Brunei). Since then? A big no-no.

Since 1999, only once did Indonesia become the grand champions, in 2011, exactly when they host the games. The whooping 182 gold medals is only surpassed thrice: by themselves in 1987 (Jakarta, 183 golds), 1997 (Jakarta, 194 golds), and by Thailand in 2007 (Nakhon Ratchasima, 183 golds).

Another proof that Indonesia want to exert its dominance in the region? Its outrageous target. The Indonesian minister for sports and youth targeted an amazing 120 gold medals for these games. As a matter of fact, they only manage to get about half of them–65 golds to be exact.

So yes, Indonesia do not live in their past anymore. That, I think, is clear enough. Unless they do something to bring the glorious past back. This is clear, for sure, in terms of sports, at least, Indonesia is not the leader.

Have it our way

As usual, there is no eternal friend or enemy, only interests. Including national sports interests. That rings true with the SEA Games. The host has the right to determine what sports to compete.

I’m sure you are acquainted with those ‘Olympic’ sports, such as association football, basketball, tennis, swimming, or badminton. Now, do you know what sports are these?

  • Chinlone (2013, host got 6 out of 8 golds)
  • Muay (2013 and previous, host got 4 out of 12 golds)
  • Pétanque (2013 and previous, in 2013 host got 3 out of 11 golds)
  • Vovinam (2013 and previous, in 2013 host got 6 out of 18 golds)
  • Soft tennis (2011, host swept all 7 golds)
  • Arnis (2005, host got 3 out of 6 golds)
  • Lawn bowls (2005, host got 1 out of 6 golds)

My point is, the thing that differentiates SEA Games with other similar competitions is the fact that hosts have the right to determine certain events that usually become the ‘gold mine’ for their medal tally. It happens every year, and yes, I don’t think it provides the fairest of any competitions.

And finally, play the blame game

Of course, 65 out of 120 targeted goals may be considered an outrageous miss, or even failure (depending on whether you think targeting 120 golds itself is a failure or not). That does not include getting silver medal for the second successive football final in SEA Games (beaten by Malaysia in 2011, Thailand in 2013–something that wont’t abide well with many Indonesians). Of course, while many Indonesians remain grateful with the achievement, it is time for the blame game.

I’ve seen people blaming the minister for targeting outrageously high, blaming the task force for being ineffective, the government for being late in giving payment for the equipments, egoism of various sport associations, lack of youth development, lack of preparation, lack of time for preparation, and more.

I don’t want to put my finger on any of them anyway. It is up to you to decide. It is clearly unfortunate that we don’t quite get what we wanted, and now it’s better for us to sit aside, grab some popcorn, and watch them fighting.

No, seriously, If we want to excel in 2015 we better do something. If we take all the above as the problem, we better fix them. Again, if Indonesia wants to exert its status as the leader of the region, it better works hard, otherwise sit under the shadow of the past.

Oh, and don’t forget. It’s election year next year.


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