The conspiracy theory does not only apply to politics but also to sports, and if they put politics in SEA Games sports, the plot thickens.
The deluge of non-traditional sports in the Southeast Asian Games is not an overnight decision of the host but a deliberate attempt of three countries, which try to master native sports unknown to other countries like the Philippines and later introduce them to the SEA Games in collaboration with the host country.
One case is chess.
The host country introduced Asean rapid and blitz chess, Myanmar rapid and blitz, and transfer chess – all in men’s and women’s team and individual, good for 18 gold medals. The gold medals were shared by Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand – three countries that are situated close to each other on the Southeast Asian map.
The host announced the inclusion at the last minute of these events. Filipino chess players, used to the standard game with 40-minute time control, had to practice for only two weeks on these new games, which the three countries and Indonesia had been playing the last decade.
The Philippines, as expected, landed outside the medal podium in all events except the international rapid and blitz.
Eugene Torre, the most senior of the eight active Filipino grandmasters, has only one suggestion: If you cannot lick them, join them.
He suggested a training program that includes study of the game and regular competitions to popularize these versions of the standard game.
“Eventually we shall get used to the game and be competitive,” said Torre.
But other countries are smarter than you think. Once you’ve mastered the sport, they won’t include that in the next SEA Games.
In 2003, host Vietnam included 16 events of fin swimming, and dominated all events with neighboring country Thailand. The Philippines, taken aback by the sudden introduction of the sport, did not send a team. Indonesia mastered the sport, which Vietnam seemed to have abandoned, and won almost all of the events when it was its turn to host in 2011. The Philippines was ready this time, and won a gold and silver. When it was Myanmar’s turn to host, it promptly excluded fin swimming, knowing Indonesia and the Philippines are ready.
Indigenous sports not popular in the Philippines but introduced from time to time in the SEA Games and are played in at least three countries outside the Philippines are vovinam, kempo, petanque, muay thai and chinlone which were played in Myanmar. Others which are already in the regular calendar are pencak silat, wushu and sepak takraw, which make the Filipinos regular beating boys of Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and even Myanmar. The reason is the lack of a training program and competitions.
One approach host countries make is the addition of more events in a sport where they are good at. In Myanmar there were more events in traditional boat race where they won 12. In 2011 Indonesia introduced non-Olympic sports like bridge, wall climbing, water ski and paragliding.
When the Philippines hosted in 2005, it included arnis, but had only four events, one of them won by Thailand.
Countries close to each other – the brains behind the new order in SEAG sports – agree on some sports that favor one or two countries through negotiations – without the knowledge of Filipino sports leaders.
The Philippine Olympic Committee and Philippine Sports Commission are strongly working for the return to purely Olympic sports to level the playing field. That’s not quite possible because sports and events in the SEA Games are no longer the prerogative of the hosts and the SEA Games Federation Council but are now the handiwork ASEAN sports federations controlled sports leaders other than Filipinos. Even before they are taken up in the SEAG Federations. By the time the sports have been approved by the “syndicates” inside the SEAGFC, it’s too late to make a protest.
The Philippines certainly has always its back to the wall. If that’s the case, we go back to what Torre suggested: If you cannot lick them, join them.