SEA Games: Cambodia brings water polo and sailing back for 2023, but bowling, shooting to miss out

Singapore bowler Cherie Tan, seen here at the Hanoi SEA Games, could see her sport miss out on next year's edition in Phnom Penh. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - With less than a year before the 2023 SEA Games in Phnom Penh, the SEA Games Federation is set to meet in a matter of weeks to finalise the list of sports and events that will be contested in the Cambodian capital.

That final list for the May 5-17 event may raise some eyebrows, with a number of sports that have featured regularly in recent editions of the biennial event on the verge of missing out.

At the most recent SEA Games Federation meeting at the Sokha Hotel in Phnom Penh last week (July 11-13), a provisional list of 40 sports included mainstays like athletics and aquatics, with water polo returning after missing the last edition in Hanoi in May 2022, which had been postponed by seven months due to the pandemic.

But other sports like bowling and shooting - which are traditionally medal winners for Team Singapore - are in limbo.

Bowling has featured in seven of the last nine SEA Games dating back to 2005, while shooting has been a part of all 31 editions of the SEA Games.

The make-up of the sports programme at each Games is decided by the host country and endorsed by the SEA Games Federation and thus, the sports and types of events vary at different editions of the Games.

Singapore Bowling Federation president Valerie Teo told The Straits Times on Wednesday (July 20) that the association had "no indication" on a late inclusion of the sport for next year's SEA Games and added that it "seems unlikely".

Singapore were the top bowling nation at the Hanoi SEA Games, picking up three gold, one silver and three bronze medals in six events. The Republic's keglers had yielded 15 gold medals across the last five times the sport featured at the Games.

"We are disappointed that we cannot compete in Cambodia but recognise it is the host nation's prerogative on which sports will be included in the Games," said Teo.

"Our training plans continue as we prepare our bowlers for other major tournaments, with the Asian Championships (in Hong Kong in January) and Asian Youth Championships on the near horizon."

For shooting, meanwhile, there is a glimmer of hope, with Phnom Penh organisers saying it is among five sports that are "still under consideration" - the others being archery, chess, rhythmic gymnastics and the martial art of kurash.

However, sources tell ST that host nation does not have the required facilities or enough technical expertise in personnel such as licensed judges and referees.

Singapore Shooting Association president Michael Vaz said he is sceptical that it would be included, and added the association had "written it off" and is instead aiming higher.

"We're concentrating on winning an Olympic medal," he said.

"It (whether there is shooting at the SEA Games) has no bearing on what our mission is. Our girls came back with two golds (at the most recent ISSF World Cup in South Korea) and the World Cup is important because it's what you need to win to get into the Olympics... We started our plan for the Olympics in November last year, and we are on track."

While the likes of canoeing, rowing and handball will likely join shooting and bowling on the list of excluded sports, Cambodia will see the return of other sports that Singapore has enjoyed recent SEA Games success in.

These include sailing, floorball, cricket and water polo.

Singapore's sailors have mined 20 golds across four editions since 2013, while its floorball players have won three of four golds on offer in two previous inclusions.

The Republic's cricketers, meanwhile, will defend the Twenty20 gold medal they won in the sport's sole SEA Games appearance in Kuala Lumpur 2017, while the water polo players are out to reclaim the gold medal they had won for 27 consecutive editions before settling for bronze in the Philippines in 2019.

The SEA Games in Cambodia will also welcome a new event, teqball, which has been included as a demonstration sport. Teqball is a combination of football, sepak takraw, and table tennis and played on a curved table.

Teqball Association of Singapore president R Sasikumar, a former national footballer, said the upcoming SEA Games presents an "awesome opportunity" for his sport.

"World body Fiteq is working very hard to have teqball included at the Olympics... so I'm just happy to know the Singapore team will have an opportunity to go to Cambodia next year and be part of this," he said.

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