THE 24th SEA Games, themed Spirit, Friendship and Celebrations and featuring 43 sports that offer a total of 475 gold medals and two demonstration sports, will officially open in earnest today in Korat and go on until Dec 15.
The Thailand Olympic Committee had planned the hosting of the biggest sporting event in Asean to coincide with the commemoration of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 80th birthday celebrations yesterday.
All the 10 members of Asean – Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Brunei – and Timor Leste, which joined the SEA Games family in 2003, are participating.
The Games are being hosted in three main venues – Korat, Bangkok and Chonburi (Pattaya), just like the 2005 SEA Games hosted by the Philippines at Manila, Cebu and Bacolod.
Though the Games officially open today, some sports like shooting, men’s and women’s football, table tennis, gymnastics and sepaktakraw had started very much earlier. In fact, shooting events have already been completed.
Thailand are hosting the SEA Games for the sixth time after having had the honour in 1959 (inaugural SEAP Games), 1967, 1975, 1985 and 1995.
The 2007 Games were supposed to be hosted by Singapore, but the city-state gave up the chance in 2004 as the National Stadium was slated for demolition in around that time to build the Singapore Sports Hub.
Most of the action will be in Korat where 30 of the 43 sports are scheduled while Bangkok hosts nine – bowling, lawn bowls, polo, futsal, baseball, handball, hockey, shooting and squash.
Chonburi is hosting canoeing, equestrian, triathlon, traditional boat race, sailing and rowing.
The hosts of the 2005 SEA Games, the Philippines, won 113 gold medals to emerge overall champions and certainly Thailand will be hoping to emulate a similar feat as they have set a 150-gold target.
Malaysia, who last emerged overall champions in 2001 with 111 gold medals when the Games were hosted in Kuala Lumpur, have set a modest target of 64 gold medals.
Malaysia, who will be participating in 40 of the 43 medal sports, are pinning their hopes on sports like athletics, swimming, lawn bowls, bowling, cycling, archery, badminton, bodybuilding, hockey, pencak silat, petanque, karate, taekwondo to deliver the goods.
The three sports that Malaysia are not taking part are muay thai, wrestling and sepaktakraw.
Though Malaysia had decided to pull out from sepaktakraw and the fact that shooting did not shoot down the anticipated four-gold target, National Sports Council (NSC) director-general Datuk Zolkples Embong remains buoyant that the rest of the Malaysian contingent can deliver the results.
“I’m quite confident with the capabilities of our athletes,” said Zolkples.