The Southeast Asian (SEA) Games needs to ditch its roster of obscure regional sports and focus solely on Olympic disciplines, Thai officials have urged.

With the Games’ 28th edition set to open in Singapore on Friday, the officials said the event had failed in its original goal of lifting athletic standards in the region.

“Those in charge of the Games should make it more interesting for both the athletes and fans,” said Sports Authority of Thailand (SAT) governor Sakol Wannapong, according to the Bangkok Post.

Sports at the Games should only be the Olympic disciplines.”

While Southeast Asians are world-beaters at the volleyball-style sepaktakraw and pencak silat, a martial art, they have failed to make an impact in sports that are more widely played.

The biennial SEA Games programme is decided by the hosts and the current edition features 36 sports, including floorball (indoor hockey), netball, bowling, petanque and wushu, a Chinese martial art.

“This time, Singapore is not organising Olympic sports like weightlifting and women’s football, but netball has been included in the programme,” Sakol said. 

“At the previous Olympics in 2012, no athletes from SEA Games member countries won any gold medals.” 

SEA Games Federation councillor Charoen Wattanasin said it was hard to convince other countries to change as the tournament, now in its 56th year, was a rare chance for them to win gold medals.

At the 2013 edition in Myanmar, little-known martial arts vovinam and kenpo took pride of place, along with chinlone (keepy-uppy), futsal, chess and body-building.

“As a member of the SEA Games Federation, I personally want to correct things to make the Games better,” Charoen told the Bangkok Post. 

“But it is not easy because many countries are reluctant to do so. They want to have their traditional sports in the Games.” 

He added: “The SEA Games should be a venue for young athletes to hone their skills for bigger events like the Asian Games and the Olympics.” – Agence France-Presse

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