Myanmar weathers storm in quest for SEA Games gold glut

Thu Feb 28, 2013 4:32am EST
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By Martin Petty

HANOI (Reuters) - Mention the words "kempo", "vovinam" or "chinlone" and expect an angry response from Southeast Asia's seething sports bosses - if they can remember what they are.

The obscure terms are indigenous sports disciplines and for the few countries that play them, they will offer an unusual amount of medals at this year's Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, at the expense of gymnasts, tennis and beach volleyball players bitter their sports were ditched by hosts Myanmar.

Like Beijing's hosting of the Olympics in 2008, Myanmar is billing the December Games as its coming out party after 49 years of military rule, but dampening celebrations is fierce criticism from competitors who accuse the hosts of cherry-picking sports it plays best.

Meetings of the 11 competing countries have been fraught with arguments, according to some who attended, with deep suspicions that Myanmar has struck deals with certain states and sought to weaken the hand of stronger nations to boost its normally mediocre standing in the medals table.

The 33-sport program, which still has yet to be finalized, features most Olympic favorites like athletics, boxing and swimming, but up to a third of the medals are allotted to martial arts-related events.

Some countries have said the politicking and gamesmanship is making a mockery of Myanmar's first SEA Games since 1969.

"It's ridiculous...whatever sports they want in, they get and the ones they've chosen carry too many medals," said Charoen Wattanasin of Thailand's Olympic Committee.

"This sort of thing shouldn't happen. The charm of the SEA Games has diminished significantly in recent years. The atmosphere used to be cordial, it was like a family."   Continued...

Labourers work on a soccer stadium that is being built for the 2013 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Myanmar's capital of Naypyitaw January 19, 2013. REUTERS/Minzayar