The first battle has yet to erupt in the 30th edition of the Southeast Asian Games, but the enemy has started to raise the white flag.
A top Malaysian official who played a huge role in his country’s emergence as overall champion when they hosted the meet two years ago admitted there will be no stopping Team Philippines from finishing as No. 1 for the second time in the long history of the biennial sports gathering.
“The Philippines will naturally be the champion,” said former Olympic Council of Malaysia secretary-general Datuk Sieh Kok Chi in his Facebook post, adding Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore will settle fighting for second to sixth positions.
Chi said the host nation is definitely using the same strategy by Malaysia when they played host in the 2017 SEA Games where it garnered a staggering haul of 145 gold medals out of the 404 total that went up for grabs to win the crown for the first time.
“Being the host, Malaysia had certain advantages, which were maximized by the organizing committee,” the Malaysian official added.
“For example, the diving events were increased from the normal 8 to 13, track cycling events were increased from the normal 8 to 13 and pencak silat events were increased from the normal 14 to 20,” Chi said.
“In addition, the events of a number of sports such as boxing, fencing, judo, weightlifting were reduced by half,” he said.
In other words, the organizing committee added events to sports where the host Malaysians are traditionally strong like pencak silat and diving, and reduced events where are weak like boxing and fencing.
According to Chi, what Malaysia did in 2017 did not go unnoticed and was quickly picked up by the organizing Philippine Sea Games Organizing Committee, which is charge of running the Nov.30-Dec. 11 meet which unfolds in various places with the New Clark City inside the former American base serving as the main hub.
The Malaysian lamented the fact that diving and track (cycling) events were deleted from the list of sports and pencak silat events were cut from 20 to only nine this time.
“The Malaysian contingent has lost 50 gold medals due to the non-inclusion of many events as well the dropping of a number of sports and disciplines, six to be exact, from the 2019 sports program,” Chi lamented.
“As such the Malaysian contingent should be quite satisfied, if it can finish in fourth position this time”.
It’s no secret that any host country usually adds sports where they are strong and removes those where its chances of winning are either slim or none.
“It’s an open book. Bakit tayo gagastos ng malaki kung hindi rin naman tayo mag-kampeon. ‘Yan ang advantage talaga ng host country,” a former Philippine Sports Commission official, who requested anonymity, told the People’s Journal yesterday.
The Philippines will be represented by a huge contingent whose training here and abroad will cost the PSC some one billion, the biggest ever to be spent on any national delegation.
World champion gymnast Carlos Yulo, Rio Olympics weightlifting silver medalist Hidilyn Diaz and world boxing titlist Nesthy Petecio banner the Filipino athletes, who will see action in 56 sports as they try to duplicate the Miracle of 2005 when the country emerged No. 1 for the first time.
In fact, PSC chairman and chef de mission Butch Ramirez had said the target is win the overall championship in our own backyard.
“Bakit tayo gagastos ng malaki kung hindi tayo mag-kampeon,” Ramirez once told sportswriters in a press conference a few months ago.