VIETNAM, as the host of the Southeast Asian Games (Seag), made a predictable first step. It chopped off the sports it wasn’t good at, cutting down the number of events from 56—when we were winning as one last year—to just 36 next year, when hopefully we would be healed as one.
Vietnam said it had to do it because its funds for next year’s hosting were used for the Covid-19 fight. There’s no doubt Vietnam did well in fighting Covid but even without the pandemic, any host country can cut off or add any number of events so it can boost its chances to win the overall title. That has always been the power of the host of the Seag, a rule that had some veteran writers calling the meet an “international barangay meet.”
Among those that will not be played in Vietnam is arnis, which netted us 14 gold medals last year. Officials of the Philippine Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation have been telling us in the run-up to the 2019 Seag that their counterparts in Vietnam had promised to include the sport in the 2021 meet. But I always knew that this was unlikely, and us winning 14 of the 20 gold medals in 2019 may have prodded Vietnam to make it the first sport on the chopping block.
Also not included next year are skateboarding and triathlon, which are regular events in the Asian Games.
There are four types of events in the SEA Games, the regular sports that are already featured in the Olympics, the Asian Games level, the events in the Asean level like sepak, and whatever indigenous sport the host country would want to include. As a regular Olympic level event, I thought triathlon was safe; the same with skateboarding, which will be included in the Olympiad next year and is already a gold medal event in the Asian Games.
Of course, in an ideal world, the SEA Games Federation should step in and make a rule that Olympic level events shouldn’t be scrapped but Vietnam, and any future host, may throw a fit and decline the hosting.
You see, ever since I started following the Seag, it has been obvious that nobody really wants to host the meet. That’s why they give all of these advantages to a potential host. I remember back in 2013, Myanmar dropped so many events and added so many indigenous events that it prompted the Philippine Olympic Committee to send a token delegation as protest.
Of course, such protest went unnoticed. So we’re back to the usual pre-Seag noise, us losing our medal chances months before the opening ceremony.