Why the Philippines Has Taken a Dominating Lead at the SEA Games

First, a bit of a backgrounder. The Southeast Asian Games, or the SEA Games, originated from the South East Asian Peninsular Games or SEAP Games in 1958 with 6 countries, namely: Burma (now Myanmar), Kampuchea (now Cambodia), Laos, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

The first SEAP Games were held in Bangkok in December 1959 with only 527 athletes and officials from the 6 countries competing in only 12 sports. It has since been renamed the South East Asian Games, having grown to 11 countries competing in numerous sports, conventional and indigenous ones included. This year’s 30th edition of the biennial sporting event ushered in 5,630 athletes from the 11 countries, with a biggest-ever 530 events to be played in 56 sports.

The SEA Games Theme. (Wikimedia)

Per SEA Games requirement, a host nation must stage a minimum of 22 sports, and it could pioneer indigenous sports which may not yet be in the Olympic calendar. Case in point: the inclusion in the Olympics of oriental sports – judo, taekwondo and next year, karate – were successfully introduced by Japan and Korea. For a sport and event to be included in the SEA Games calendar, a minimum of four countries must participate in it.

Hence, the SEA Games is unique in that it has no official limits to the number of sports to be contested. The range can be decided by the organizing host, with the approval of the Southeast Asian Games Federation. Except for Aquatics and Athletics that are ‘must-have’ sports, the host is also free to drop or introduce other events.

Kristina Marie Knott celebrates after getting the gold for the womens 200m. (Josh Albelda/Rappler)

This privilege of picking which sports to play has resulted in hosts maximizing their medal hauls by dropping sports disadvantageous to themselves relative to their peers and the introduction of obscure sports, often at short notice, thus preventing most other nations from building credible opponents.

For this year’s hosting of the SEA Games, the Philippines included a couple of sports where we believe we have an advantage. Included here are Duathlon, E-Sports, Beach Handball, Basketball 3-on-3, Jujitsu, Kickboxing, Kurash, Modern Pentathlon, Obstacle Racing, Sambo, Skateboarding, Surfing and Wakeboarding. We also revived Arnis (last played in 2005 hosted by the Philippines) and Dancesport (last played in 2009 hosted by Laos).

And this has created a small bonanza for the host country. In Arnis, we bagged 14 of the 20 gold medals at stake. In Dancesport, we pocketed 10 of the 13 golds contested. In Obstacle Racing, we won 4 of 6 events played. In Skateboarding, the Philippines dominated with 6 golds out of 8 at stake. In 3×3 Basketball, we swept both golds in men’s and women’s competition. And we expect to harvest more in these newly-introduced sports in the days ahead.

For the record, Philippines last hosted in 2005, and we took the overall championship then, with 112 gold medals in 444 events played, for a .25 clip ratio in golds to number of events. That meant 1 gold medal for every 4 events played! Thailand followed in 2007, and it emerged champion with a whopping .384 ratio of golds to events! Resource-constrained Laos hosted in 2009, and it landed a respectable 7th. Indonesia hosted next, and needless to say, it took the championship in 2011, with a .333 golds-to-events ratio. Myanmar was host in 2013, and it landed a surprising 2nd in the overall standings despite its manpower and resource lack. (Please read about the Philippines’ debacle in Myanmar.) Tiny Singapore followed in 2015, landing 2nd with a .208 clip despite their lack of manpower. (Please read about the Philippines’ campaign in Singapore.) Finally, Malaysia hosted last 2017 finishing 1st with a dominant .357 golds-to-events clip. At the rate we are going, we are running a respectable .289 rate, having won 114 golds in 394 events played so far.

Winsome Agatha Wong gave the Philippine campaign in Wushu a boost. (ABS-CBN Sports)

Coupled with this, as hosts, we get the homecourt advantage. It is such a huge advantage to be playing in familiar grounds, and before thousands of your own fans. Sometimes, these cheering fans can even influence the way judges score bouts. Hence, the homecourt advantage is a significant factor in any sports competition. You see that in the NBA, in Major League Baseball, even in Euro Football, etc.

But this is not to say we have not improved. For certainly, our athletes have improved by leaps and bounds during the last two years with the full support of the PSC, and the reforms being slowly implemented now in Philippine Sports. Recently, we have seen the likes of Margie Didal, Carlos Yulo, Ernest Obiena highlight Philippine prowess. We have seen encouraging development in men’s and women’s volleyball, with the likes of Bryan Bagunas, Mark Espejo, Alyssa Valdez, etc. providing inspiration for the sport. Everywhere, it seems that Philippine Sports is finally taking a turn for the better. The stench of sports politics during the Peping era is clearly slowly diminishing, although you can still see it in the sports where his mafia continues to control. (Please read about the situation in Philippine Sports a few years ago.) But that is a story for another time.

Carlos Yulo gives us a fresh new face for Philippine Gymnastics. (ABS-CBN Sports)

So there. The sudden deluge of Philippine gold medals in the SEA Games, after more than a decade of miserable performances, can be attributed to 3 things: 1) the entry of host-dominant sports such as Arnis, Dancesport, etc; 2) the homecourt advantage with the crowd acting as the proverbial ‘sixth man’; and finally, 3) the new leadership in Philippine Sports which brought in the much-needed support and the reforms being initiated. Finally, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

But for now, let us continue to cheer for our team in the SEA Games. Bring your kids to the Games. This is a golden opportunity to instill the values of nationalism in an easy sports environment. Let’s go, Philippines!

Top photo courtesy of: Inquirer Sports. Other pics courtesy of: ABS-CBN News, Inquirer Sports, Philippine Star, The Filipino Times, Rappler, Fastbreak.com, ABS-CBN Sports. For a closer look, just click on the pics.

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