YANGON: Myanmar said Tuesday that it was excluding tennis and gymnastics from this year’s Southeast Asian Games, prompting accusations by rivals of cherry-picking events to help home athletes.
The 2013 SEA Games will be the first major international event to be held in Myanmar since the end of junta rule almost two years ago.
But the events list has angered some regional neighbors who say Olympic disciplines should take precedence over local events such as chinlone, a dance-like sport played with a rattan ball, and bodybuilding — at which the hosts excel.
“There were many requests to add and remove (sports). After discussion, we removed some and also added some,” sports ministry official Htay Aung told AFP, saying hockey, table tennis and badminton were all reinstated after talks Tuesday between officials from the 11 competing countries in Naypyidaw.
“We also should not include some sports which our country cannot win,” he added, apparently confirming suspicions Myanmar had selected some disciplines purely to boost its medal tally.
“Tennis is an Olympic sport which should be in the Games but Myanmar said they don’t have courts (for it),” said Chaiyapak Siriwat, vice president of the National Olympic Committee of Thailand.
“Personally, I think they don’t have tennis athletes,” he said.
Chris Chan, the secretary general of the Singapore National Olympic Council, said that it was Myanmar’s right to choose certain sports, but that other countries had pushed to have table tennis and badminton on the list.
“We argued that Southeast Asians were good at certain sports, and they understood that,” he said. “Gymnastics was dropped because it requires a lot of apparatus, and tennis, well, we don’t do that well in that in Southeast Asia.” Host nations are routinely accused of skewing the line-up of disciplines to favor their athletes as they eye medals table glory.
Events such as martial art pencak silat, Vietnamese martial art vovinam and sepak takraw, a cross between football and volleyball, are among the disciplines unfamiliar outside the region that join the regular sporting line-up.
Critics frequently decry their inclusion for diluting the quality of the events and handing host nations medals in their niche sports.
The hosts normally top the SEA Games medals tally.