Hosts Malaysia promises SEA Games of many firsts

Hosts Malaysia promises SEA Games of many firsts

Malaysia's Minister for Youth and Sports Khairy Jamaluddin talks about SEA Games aspirations, powerhouses Thailand and why countries should send young athletes over developed world champions in the spirit of the regional competition.

KUALA LUMPUR: Hosts Malaysia are promising a Southeast Asian Games of many firsts - from introducing winter sports to having para-athletes competing alongside able-bodied athletes for the first time. 

The Malaysian contingent boasts a number of big names for the upcoming edition including world champions Azizulhasni Awang (keirin), Cheong Jun Hoong (diving) and Mohd Al-Jufferi Jamari (silat). All will be flag-bearers at the opening ceremony on Saturday (Aug 19).

Other stars to watch out for include 20-year-old swimmer Welson Sim, who beat Olympic champion Mack Horton while setting a national record for the 400m freestyle at the Mare Nostrum Tour Swimming Championship in June.

The win drew comparisons to Singaporean Joseph Schooling's feat of overcoming American great Michael Phelps at the 2016 Rio Olympics - an observation Welson was quick to dismiss.

"I mean it's a great feeling to beat an Olympic champ but at the same time, I know their time, I know their standards. They weren't at their best," he told Channel NewsAsia.

Swimming Msia SEA Games
Malaysia's national swimmers training ahead of the SEA Games. (Photo: Sumisha Naidu) 

The Sarawakian, who took up swimming as a child to help his asthma, is aiming for three gold medals at the upcoming meet.

Malaysia will be competing in 398 out of the 404 events at this year's games - fielding its biggest ever contingent of 874 athletes.


Also among the Malaysian contingent are Ziyad Zolkefli and Abd Latif Romly, a pair of gold medallists at the Rio Paralympic Games who will be making SEA Games history. 

The duo will be the first para-athletes to compete at both the SEA Games and the ASEAN Para Games, which will be held two weeks after the former. 

Ziyad, 27, was dubbed a "slow learner" at school. He sold fried noodles for a living before becoming one of Malaysia's most beloved athletes following his record-breaking performance in the F20 (intellectual disability) shot put event at Brazil in 2016. 

He then went on to break his own record at the World Para Athletics Championships in London this year.

Still, Ziyad told Channel NewsAsia that competing at the upcoming SEA Games will be one of his proudest achievements.

"For a para athlete to compete with able-bodied athletes, to enter the SEA Games is a big dream fulfilled," he said. "My most 'power' achievement. That I was able to qualify at all made me so happy, there were so many others who didn't qualify."

The spotlight may be on the big hitters but Malaysian Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has told the contingent not just focus on certain sports or certain athletes to deliver because "anything can happen" when the competition starts.

"You (Malaysia athletes) can surprise us on that day. So don't think, 'I'm just here to participate' because you can perform on that day, you could win a medal," he told Channel NewsAsia in an interview in June

Khairy would understand the pressure well enough. In yet another first, he will be the first minister to compete in the SEA Games, representing Malaysia in equestrian polo.

"Time management is going to be important for everyone, not just for me, and we're all 24/7," he said when asked about the twin responsibilities of running the Games and being an athlete.


Winter sports will also be making its SEA Games debut in sunny and humid Kuala Lumpur with ice hockey, speed skating and figure skating events.

"Speed skating, figure skating and ice hockey are Winter Olympic sports. (They have an) increasing following in Southeast Asian countries otherwise we wouldn't have countries agreeing to participate in them," Khairy told Channel NewsAsia.

"We have the facilities for it. So we thought, why not do something different?"

Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia are some of the countries competing in these events.


In addition, Khairy has dubbed the KL games as the first "Green Games" - introducing measures to ensure the events are as eco-friendly as possible.

"You can't just let the opportunity of the SEA Games go by without trying to do something big," he told media earlier this week.

"We want to use this event which has traditionally been seen as a sports event ... to unite in celebrating more than just sporting success - for us to unite in celebrating preserving the future."

To offset the Games' carbon footprint, 5,429 trees will be planted, corresponding to the total number of medals on offer.

A tree will be planted and named after every Malaysian gold medallist at the national sports hub itself, KL Sports City, while the rest will be planted along Peninsula Malaysia's Central Forest Spine.

A total of 1,000 free bicycles will be provided across the city and official sponsor Grab is partnering with the SEA Games to ensure more carpooling and less traffic congestion.

One thousand "green volunteers" are also being deployed at venues to educate the public on sustainable practices.


Following in Singapore's lead from 2015, Malaysia has also indicated it wants the upcoming SEA Games to be a "digital-friendly" event.

"We're presenting our games in a different digital era and we need to make sure they're not just on traditional media channels but also through social media," Khairy told Channel NewsAsia.

"I think one thing that brings the game closer to people are apps like Twitter, Facebook.

"We're streaming more sports live than ever before too simply because technology has become cheaper & more cost effective."

The public can get match schedules, live results, a medal tally and more on the official Kuala Lumpur 2017 app.

Malaysia is also launching a "never done before" Augmented Reality Rimau (ARR) app the public can use to scan markers at game venues to find out live scores and medal tallies.

Source: CNA/am