Limpag: SEA Games reforms

The 1991 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games was the first major sports event I followed as a kid. Barely in my teens, I scoured the papers daily for the results and stories of the exploits of our national team. I used to wonder what it was like to watch the SEA Games or even compete in it.

I think that was when I first started entertaining dreams of becoming a professional sportswriter.

Over the years, as I’ve covered the events and witnessed beforehand the back-room politics behind the SEA Games, the meet that was once beautiful in the eyes of a 13-year-old has turned into something else.

A farce.

You see, two or more decades ago, it seemed nobody wanted to host the SEA Games, as they saw it as an expensive event not worth the time and money to invest in as a host. So, they gave the host so many powers, including the authority to determine which events get included or not.

You’ve had cases when a host country included a bunch of indigenous games to bolster its medal ranking, which, for me, is a false sense of achievement. Since then, I’ve never really been impressed with a host winning the overall title, a visiting country finishing second, or even first, for me is a true gauge of a country’s strength in the SEA Games.

Some veteran sports scribes call it the inter-barangay level of international sports because rules change from one edition to the next.

Everyone does it. We did it when we hosted it, padding events in billiards, dancesport, arnis and adding a 3×3 in basketball.

However, it seems the latest change has been too much for other Asean countries, with the host Cambodia allowing anyone with a passport to compete in the games.

That gives an advantage to states like Cambodia — governed by one party under a monarchy — since it can give passports just to anybody else.

Though we did field a lineup full of imports in the ‘80s, but ever since we’ve allowed our foreign-based Pinoys dual citizenship, our foreign-born national team members some mistakenly call as naturalized citizens have Filipino lineage.

Not in the case of Cambodia. But because of the rules, they are all allowed.

Hence, the outrage.

But I hope the outrage from the rest of the Southeast Asian federation won’t be limited to post-match interviews and social media memes.

It’s time the federation caps the power of the host by having the SEA Games include Olympic-level or Asian-level events only. Enough with this practice of having indigenous sports.

It is useless to include a sport like arnis only to see it drop in the next five SEA Games.