Last week, the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) announced a total of 56 sports have been approved by the Southeast Asian Games Federation Council.
It makes the country’s hosting of the 30th Southeast Asian Games the biggest ever in its 60-year history.
The news was a cause for celebration for the region.
Aside from centerpiece athletics and aquatics, local sports fans will definitely witness topnotch action in spectator sports like basketball, volleyball, football, cycling, golf and boxing.
Of course, medal-rich sports like judo, taekwondo, gymnastics, wushu, shooting and fencing will also be played with the grand design of hosting the biggest SEA Games ever.
In a message to reporters, POC communications director Ed Picson quoted POC chairman Abraham Tolentino calling the approval as a “positive development” while POC president Ricky Vargas stressed that the number of sports will be finalized when the Council meets again in Manila this November.
Although the number can still be reduced, it appears the Philippines is on its way to breaking the feat set by Thailand when it hosted 43 sports during the 24th SEA Games in Nakhon Ratchasima in 2007.
But not everybody is happy with the development.
Two developing sports — netball and handball — were curiously scratched from the list, prompting their respective presidents in Charlie Ho and Steve Hontiveros to raise a howl over the proposal presented by Celso Dayrit and Karen Caballero before ranking Council officials in Bangkok.
I believe netball deserves to be there.
Actually, the federation already made its debut in the biennial meet in which a British coach spearheaded a team led by former volleyball players Michelle Datuin and Michiko Castaneda in the Singapore SEA Games in 2015.
Handball also deserves to be in the list as its men’s beach handball squad mentored by former national fencer Joanna Franquelli defeated Vietnam en route to a bronze medal finish in the Southeast Asian Beach Handball Championships in Dumaguete City last year.
The squad also reached the semifinals of the International Handball Grand Prix in Shandong, China early this year.
If we’re going to look at its capability to compete, we can say that the squad may fail to win the gold medal. But it will definitely come up with a very good fight that will lead to the development of the sport and improvement of its athletes.
While these two sports were scratched due to their failure to “lobby” as what Caballero claimed in a social media post, five sports that look alien to Filipinos surprisingly made the roster.
Vietnamese martial arts game called vovinam was included as well as E-sports, underwater hockey, kurash, kickboxing and modern pentathlon.
Vovinam, which drew laughter from ranking POC officials when Myanmar included it as a demonstration sport in the Burma SEA Games in 2013 together with kempo and chin lone, would be played in the country despite having no local federation and no national team to speak of.
E-sports also has yet to take off in the Philippines despite reports that it will soon be led by Foreign Affairs Sec. Alan Peter Cayetano, who is also the chairman of the Philippine Sea Games Organizing Committee (Phisgoc).
Of course, underwater hockey also has no local governing body as it should fall under aquatics together with swimming, water polo and diving while kurash should be treated just a mere event in judo.
Should the POC continue to push for the inclusion of these sports, it’s going to be a major waste of taxpayers’ money as the country has no technical know-how, no governing body and no national athletes to fight for precious medals.
Heck, fans even don’t know that these sports exist.
And in doing so, two sports with very bright future and have athletes who have been training regularly — netball and handball — will be left out of the region’s biggest athletic conclave.
Sure, the SEA Games is a very tough competition.
It is a battle that serves as a yardstick of our sports program.
But let us not forget that we are hosting the Games, not only to prepare our athletes for the Asian Games and the Olympics, but also to raise the morale of our countrymen, to spark our nation-building and give our government a return on investment by winning the overall crown.
So, if we’re going to include sports where we have zero chances of winning — or even worse, of competing — we might as well abandon the plan and put the fund somewhere else.
We should not look at the SEA Games based on the number of sports or number of athletes.
We should also look at our athletes’ ability to compete and dominate.
It should always be quality over quantity.