The Philippines has a golden chance to finally put an order of balance and fair play back into the Southeast Asian Games when it plays host to the biennial games, considered the Olympics in this Asian region.
It has been a tradition for host countries to select the sports that will be competed in the Games but this practice was somewhat abused by some quarters to suit their strengths and dominate the competition, much to the chagrin of the visiting participants.
The hosts were allowed by the SEAG Federation to infuse non-Olympic sports to promote the country’s traditional sports.
However, the host countries went further by injecting sports where they have gold medal potentials and removing events or categories where they have slim chances of winning.
Take the case of boxing where the Malaysian organizers removed the lightweight division where Olympian Charly Suarez was a cinch for the gold. He was forced to go up in weight and fight in the lighwelterweight class where he settled for the bronze medal.
Worse, the judging has suffered terribly with multiple claims of unfair scoring.
Suarez lost to local boy Wuichai Masuk of Malaysia in the semifinals via unanimous decision. Association of Boxing Alliance of the Philippines (ABAP) official Ed Picson was not happy with the decision, saying Suarez was clearly the better fighter.
“Yung kay Suarez, malabo yun,” said Picson. Even other countries like Cambodia and Thailand, have publicly resented officiating, especially in subjective scoring.
Ahmad Shapawi Ismail, director-general of Malaysia’s National Sports Council, said none of the 10 visiting teams had registered an official complaint.
“We have a technical delegate appointed by the international (SEA Games) federation,” he told AFP reporter.
“We have procedures on whatever protests or dissatisfaction (there is) from the teams and until now if I’m not mistaken we haven’t received any official complaints.”
He added: “The bottom line is, there are rules, there are procedures. There is a technical delegate appointed by the international sports federation, and we have to trust those people to deliver the competition properly.”
The absence of a formal complaint however does not mean the scoring was totally clean.
In combat sports, which this writer comprehensively covered, a visiting country fighting a Malaysian should win so convincingly or to go for a knock out, to take the win.
“Pag hindi mo na knock out ang Malaysian, kahit lamang ka sa patama, delikado,” observed a fellow reporter.
Another event where the Malaysia had slim chances of winning was the women’s weightlifting where Rio Olympian Hidilyn Diaz should be a huge favorite to win a gold medal.
It was scrapped by the organizers.
“Almost sure (gold) na sana tayo sa event na ito,” said Philippine Weightlifting Association (PWA) president Monico Puentevella.
The Malaysian organizers also did the trick in scheduling of games to favor their bets.
Eric Shawn Cray of athletics and the Philippine women’s basketball team fell victims to these shenanigans.
Cray lost his crown as the fastest man of the Games after he was scheduled to run just one hour after his another event—the men’s 400 meter hurdles—which he won. But it took the toll on him as he was visibly spent in taking the men’s 100 meters and eventually losing to Malaysian favorite Khairul Hafiz Jantan.
“Oh yeah, I was definitely tired,” said Cray, although he still bravely put up a close contest losing by just a whip in their neck-and-neck battle to the photo finish.
Cray admitted that had the 400-meter hurdles and 100-meter run been held on different days, he would have definitely given Jantan a run for his money.
“I wish it (the 100 meters) was tomorrow and I could have recovered, and, you know, feel a little better,” added the sprinter, who bared that lactic acid from his three previous races, including the heats, had caused pain throughout his body.
“I’m taped everywhere from my lower back all the way down,” he said.
The Perlas Pilipinas ended with a medal-less campaign in the SEA Games and one of the culprits was the ploy by the organizers was to tire them out before facing host Malaysia.
They were made to play Thailand late night and as they defeated Thailand, the driver of the bus carrying the Filipina ballers “lost” their way going back to their hotel and they were even made to walk hundreds of meters.
And they were to face the well rested Malaysian in the morning the next day. After that ploy and few bad calls, the Filipinas bowed down in defeat to Malaysians who went on to win the gold.
These and that hugely contributed to the lowest gold medal output of Team Philippines in 18 years.
Philippine Squash Federation president Robert Bachmann , who is also the deputy chef de mission of the Philippine delegation, said the silver finishes of the Philippines should also be considered in rating the success of the Filipino athletes.
“We have to consider these silver medals because that was how close we were and most of these may actually be gold medals,” he said.
No officials from the visiting contingents made a formal protest but the hundreds of media members, including the Philippines, were a clear witness to these schemes.
The Bangkok post came out with an editorial saying: “For many Thai officials, athletes, journalists and fans, KL 2017 is the worst tournament in SEA Games history in terms of both officiating and organising.”
Now the SEA Games is going to the Philippines and this early, discussion are ripe that PH officials will include Filipino sports disciplines like Arnis to boost its claim to the top.
Unless Filipino officials do away with this malpractice, the vicious cycle of “unsportsmanlike acts” in what is supposed to be a friendly competition among neighbors, will continue.