OF THE SEA GAMES
The origins of athletic competition lie in the
mists of time when tribal members competed in the everyday skills
of survival. The fastest and strongest were lauded, for it was they
who ensured the tribe’s continued existence, in times of peace and
in times of war.
Certainly, Laung Sukhumanaipradit is hardly a
household name, yet as a vice
president of the Olympic Committee, he first floated the idea of
a smaller sports event comprising the nations of the Southeast Asian
peninsula, during the Third Asian Games held in Tokyo in 1958. At
a meeting held on 22 May the same year, representatives from Burma
(Myanmar), Laos and Malaysia met with their Thai hosts to explore
There was a certain logic to the idea. The countries
of the region had many similarities. Modest of population and on
a comparable economic footing, they shared common sports participation
as well as roughly equal standards of achievement. Such an event
would serve as a stepping stone for Southeast Asian athletes to
raise their standards so as to be more competitive when they met
more advantaged athletes in the larger arenas of the Asian and Olympic
The meeting resulted in the formation of the Southeast
Asian Peninsula (SEAP) Games Federation in June 1959, the founder
members being Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam
- hence the six interlocked rings which formed the Games logo. The
first president of the Federation was General Prabhas Charusatiara
of Thailand and Luang Mayapradit was elected vice president with
Dr Kalya Israsena taking the role of honorary secretary. Other pioneer
members of the committee included Ms U Paing of Burma, His Highness
Sisowath Essaro of Cambodia, Mr Nakkhla Souvannong of Laos, Mr Thong
Poh Nyen of Malaysia and Mr Bguyen Phuoc Vong of Vietnam.
In deference to their efforts in bringing the
whole concept to fruition, Thailand was given the honour of hosting
the inaugural SEAP Games in 1959. Formally declared open by His
Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand in Bangkok’s National
Stadium, some 800 athletes and officials took part in 12 sporting
disciplines: Athletics, Badminton, Basketball, Boxing, Cycling,
Football, Tennis, Shooting, Swimming, Table Tennis, Volleyball and
Weightlifting. The atmosphere of friendly competition added to the
whole experience and the SEAP Games were definitely ‘off and running’.
The Federation had already decided that in future
"the honour of hosting the SEAP Games shall be entrusted to
the member organisation of each country in rotation in alphabetical
order". Thus the hosts for the II SEAP Games were the Burmese,
and President Win Maung of the Union of Burma inaugurated the 1961
meet at Rangoon. Cambodia did not take part in the inaugural Games
but joined the fray in the second Games at Rangoon in 1961 which
had a full turnout of the seven countries. Again, more than 800
athletes and officials took part and shared in the friendly ambience
of athletic rivalry and social interaction.
The year 1963 saw a hiccup in planning though,
as due to unsettling in-country conditions - and a disagreement
with the International Amateur Athletic Federation
- the designated hosts Cambodia were not able to host the event.
The III SEAP Games then passed to Laos as hosts, but they begged
off the 1965 event citing financial difficulties. Fortunately though,
Malaysia steeped into the breach which, by right, should have been
held in 1963 and the eight days sporting extravaganza was held in
Kuala Lumpur with around 1,300 athletes and officials taking part.
By now the SEAP Games Federation had gained another member with
Singapore’s independence from the Malaysian Federation in August
The incapability of Cambodia, Laos and South Vietnam
to take on the job of hosting the Games in the foreseeable future
raised some concern among the other member countries. Even the participation
of these countries was limited to token squads. In 1967, Cambodia
again declined to host the Games, but Thailand took over and some
1,200 participants gathered in Bangkok. The next scheduled hosts
were Vietnam, but they too had to reluctantly inform the Federation
that troubles in the country prevented them from fulfilling their
obligations, and the V SEAP Games returned to Rangoon. Singapore,
the youngest member of the family, made the first move to alleviate
the situation. In 1969 at Rangoon the Fifth Games were held, they
proposed changing the SEAP Games name to SEA (South East Asia )
No names were mentioned but it was clear that
Singapore thought of reinforcements from Indonesia and Philippines
to help lift the sagging fortunes of the series. These two countries,
which were more advanced in the affairs of international sport that
the original members of the SEAP Games Federation, would not only
be able to help out in the hosts job which was going abetting but
also enter contestants of a higher standard in some events.
Thailand held on to their belief that the SEAP
Games should be a small family affair and that going out of the
peninsular would defeat the original purpose of the Games. An expanded
Games would also not be in the real spirit of close neighbours.
Two years later, when Kuala Lumpur’s turn to officially
host the VI SEAP Games for the second time in six years, Malaysia
joined hands with Singapore to resubmit the name change proposal.
Again, there was no success.
The Games continued in their original framework
but the serious competition was provided only by Thailand, Burma,
Malaysia and Singapore. Cambodia, and later Khmer, Laos and South
Vietnam sent competitors who were mostly full time soldiers with
little or no training in the events they were entered.
The four "active" countries who had
carry the burden of hosting the Games were further depleted when
Burma showed no further interest in helping out after hosting the
1969 Games, due to the deteriorating economy in their country.
Singapore hosted the VII SEAP Games for the first
time with a full turnout of seven countries being held at the new
and modern National Stadium in 1973. However, when Bangkok took
its turn as host for the VII SEAP Games two years later, only four
members organisations turned up - political problems in Cambodia,
Laos and Vietnam prevented their participation and cast serious
doubts on their ability to take part in upcoming events anytime
An idea that had flamed so boldly into life less
that two decades before now seemed liable to be extinguished, crippled
by regional political problems and the increasing cost burden of
hosting the event so regularly - Thailand had already hosted the
Games three times, and Burma and Malaysia twice apiece. A lifeline
Malaysia tendered a suggestion - extend the Federation
to include other countries in the Southeast Asian region. To back
up its proposal, Malaysia offered to again host the Games on the
proviso that Brunei, Indonesia and Philippines be invited to take
part. A solution had been found and on 5 February 1977, these three
new members were officially welcomed into the Federation. Present
on this occasion were Ferry Sonneville of Indonesia and Colonel
Nereo Andolong of the Philippines.
Still, it was not plain sailing. Behind the scenes
persuasion on the eve of the meeting by Olympic Council of Malaysia
President, Tan Sri Hamzah Abu Samah got Thailand to withdraw some
reservations about a change in name for the Games. Thailand, with
good reason, viewed the Games with some sentiment. They were instrumental
in starting the series and did not wish to let their early work
go to waste.
With fresh life breathed into the biennial event,
the only cosmetic change required was to drop the word "Peninsula"
from the federation’s title - the emblem and the sequential numbering
of the Games would remain to perpetuate the objectives, aspirations
and contributions of the original founders. The IX SEA Games (the
first to bear that title ) was held in Kuala Lumpur in 1977 with
seven countries participating.
Indonesia and the Philippines have been of full
value to the movement since becoming members. As new members of
the club, Indonesia hosted the X SEA Games in Jakarta in 1979, and
the Philippines hosted for the first time in 1981 in Manila when
over 2,000 athletes and officials took part. The XII Games were
to be held in Brunei to start anew the alphabetical schedule of
hosts, but Singapore took over when the tiny nation begged off because
of its preparations for the celebration of its forthcoming independence
from the United Kingdom.
Since that time the Games have gone from strength
to strength, the XIII being held in Bangkok, XIV in Jakarta and
the XV in Kuala Lumpur in 1989, which saw the return of Laos and
Vietnam for the first time under the new title. With nine out of
the ten member countries participating, it was not only the largest
in the history of the Games to date but also in the number of athletes
and officials with a total 3,160 on hand.
Manila hosted the next SEA Games, followed by
Singapore when 4,6ll athletes and officials were on hand. The XVIII
SEA Games in Chiang Mai broke new ground in that it was the first
time the Games had been held outside the capital city of the host
nation; it was also the first time that all 10 member nations -
the last re-entry being Cambodia - turned up to compete.
The XIX SEA Games was held at Jakarta with a record
number of 6007 athletes and officials participated. A total of 34
sporting disciplines with 1,432 medals were offered in this Game.
It was a far cry from the first Games held in Thailand 38 years
ago, when 800 pioneers turned up to contest 12 sporting events.
After much coaxing from the Southeast Asia Games Federation
Council, Brunei Darussalam accepted to host the XX SEA Games for
the first time. In view of the facilities available, a total of
21 sporting disciplines will be offered during the Games from 7th
- 15th August 1999. Polo will be introduced for the first time in
The XVIII SEA Games in Chiang Mai saw the full
turn-out of 10 member nation for the first time, but the progress
in improving the quality of participation in the Asian and Olympic
Games from the SEA family is slow. Since the birth of SEAP Games,
Thailand , the Philippines and Malaysia have won a Silver and Bronze
medal each and Indonesia a Gold, Silver and Bronze in the Olympic
Whether this successes would had been achieved
if there were no SEAP / SEA Games is difficult to say but there
are more people knocking on the door for Asian and Olympic selection
after participating in the SEA Games.
Another welcome development in the prominence
given to the region’s endogenous sports and its potential in being
accepted for competition in the Asian Games.
Sepak Takraw was accepted for SEAP Games competition
in 1965 and it has been in every Games programme since then except
in 1969 when the Games were held in Rangoon. The name Sepak Takraw
itself was coined at a Federation Meeting in Kuala Lumpur in 1965,
combining the Malaysian and Thai names for the traditional sport.
It has since enjoyed international status as a competitive sports
and been a demonstration sport in the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi.
Silat Olahraga, a martial art of the region, and
traditional boat races were SEA Games event for the first time in
Jakarta in 1987. They are in the program since then. Silat Olahraga
has made giant strides outside the SEA Games framework and there
are World Championships with good participation from European countries
In 1989 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games, body building
has been paired off as one event with weight lifting and the traditional
boat race taking refuge under yachting. Wushu another martial art
and squash, were first introduced in the Manila XVI SEA Games 1991.
In 1989 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games, body building has been paired off
as one event with weight lifting and the traditional boat race taking
refuge under yachting. Athletics and swimming are compulsory sports.
For the first thirteen SEAP/SEA Games (1959 -
1985), the average number of events in the Games is 16. Since then,
the average rose to 28 event which Jakarta offered the highest number
in 1997. The lowest number of events is 12 with 67 gold medals made
up for the first Games in 1959 while the highest is 34 with 438
gold in the 1997 programme in Jakarta.
Somewhere up above, Laung Sukhumanaipradit must
be smiling contentedly. His vision has grown into not only the region’s
major sporting attraction but, despite problems along the way, has
done much to foster a closer, mutual understanding between the nations
of Southeast Asia.