The stuff champions are made of

ONCE again, we punched above our weight at the 28th SEA Games with the classy way we delivered a spectacularly successful Games.

Singing the emotive Majulah Singapura a capella when technology failed us was voted the most memorable moment of the Games.

I also cherish the spirit of sportsmanship.

At the finals for the men's marathon, Singapore's Ashley Liew found himself leading the field, only to realise that his competitors had been directed to a wrong turn. It was a perfect opportunity to build on a lead. Instead, he slowed his pace, nearly to a crawl, to ensure that the rest could make up as they got back on track.

Single-minded athletes focus to win. After all, competitive sport is measured by victories. Winners are remembered and celebrated.

Liew finished in 2hr 44min and placed eighth. I don't know if he would have medalled if he hadn't slowed down or pulled his hamstrings. What I do know is that he acted graciously, with consideration and integrity, in a highly competitive situation.

There were no medals for his performance, but for me, his remarkable decision deserves to be commended and remembered.

So, too, the gracious act of the Philippine men's basketball team, playing against basketball newcomers Timor Leste. They could easily have padded their final margin. Instead, the Filipinos restrained themselves by deliberately slowing the game down. They respected the spirit of the Games, their opponents and themselves.

Their coach, Tab Baldwin, told sportswriters after the game: "So you want to go out there and you want to work, but it doesn't mean you try to overwhelm your opponents... We respect that... Timor Leste is here giving their best."

Conceived in 1958, the SEA Games' objectives are to develop closer regional cooperation, better understanding and stronger unity among South-east Asian neighbours through sport.

It is easy to forget, in the heat of competitiveness, that sport isn't only about winning. It's about how the game is played. It's about sportsmanship.

The medals, the glory, even the champions, will eventually be buried in the annals of sport history. But sportsmanship, that gracious human spirit, will be alive to remind us of the higher purpose of the Games.

No medals are needed for sportsmanship. In itself, good sportsmanship is a badge of honour we can all strive to behold together.

William Wan (Dr)

General Secretary

Singapore Kindness Movement

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2015, with the headline 'The stuff champions are made of'. Print Edition | Subscribe