SEA Games: Homegrown sports will remain a staple of the tournament, says Games chiefs

Indonesia's Syaiful Rijal (left) competes with Regie Reznan Fabriga of the Philippines during their men's team doubles preliminary round robin sepak takraw match at the 29th Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) in Kuala Lumpur on Aug 21, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) - South-east Asian Games organisers have given their strong backing to keeping homegrown sports like sepak takraw - as well as the policy of tailoring the programme to suit the host country.

The biennial Games, whose 29th edition is underway in Malaysia, are known for their distinctive regional sports and unashamed home-nation bias.

The hosts have topped the medals table at six of the last 10 editions, and Malaysia look set to finish top in Kuala Lumpur - for the first time since they last hosted the Games in 2001.

The Games organisers have said there were no plans to revise their approach of showcasing colourful regional pursuits such as pencak silat to focus more closely on Olympic sports.

"The Olympic sports are very, very important, but some countries don't have facilities for many of the Olympic sports," said SEA Games Federation president Tunku Imran Tuanku Ja'afar.

"So yes, we will certainly have Olympic sports where we want to do well in South-east Asia... but we also have to cater for sports that are popular within the region."

Sepak takraw and martial arts like pencak silat and wushu are among the disciplines that remain little known outside of Asia.

The current, 11-nation SEA Games also feature lawn bowls, petanque, Muay Thai boxing and figure skating among their diverse schedule of 38 sports.

"Sepak takraw is very much a regional sport and very popular, so we have to ensure that those sports are properly covered," said Tunku Imran.

"And then you have to give some opportunity to the host country to win some medals."

According to the SEA Games charter, athletics and aquatics, which includes swimming and diving, are compulsory, and the hosts then choose at least 14 sports from a list of 38 which feature at the Olympics or Asian Games.

The home country can also pick between two and eight sports out of 16 listed in a third category, which includes the South-east Asian favourites.

"We try to do a balance of what's compulsory, what's on the programme of the Olympic Games and Asian Games," said Low Beng Choo, secretary of the Games' sports and technical committee.

"But we also give the host country an opportunity to choose the regional or the sub-regional sports that are good for the host country."

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