Hijab-wearing female stunt bike rider

In recent years, the region’s signature sporting event has never failed to throw up its fair share of scandals

January 17, 2020

Rolling to victory
Throughout the history of the SEA Games, it has been fairly standard practice for host nations to weight the events on offer in their favour, but Indonesia took the tradition to new levels in 2011 when it decided to introduce no less than 12 roller skating events. The sport had never made an appearance at the games prior to the tournament, which was co-hosted by Jakarta and Palembang, so it was little surprise when Indonesian athletes such as Ajeng Anindya Prasalita obliterated the competition in two separate disciplines – the 3,000m and 5,000m – as the hosts went on to hoover up all 12 gold medals on offer in that event.

Pugilist pull out
The Philippines has one of the region’s proudest boxing traditions but in 2007 its finest exponents decided to down gloves prior to, and during, six men’s gold medal fights. The fighters forfeited their chances at gold in protest at the judging in the women’s finals, where Filipinas were on the wrong end of the scorecard in all five bouts that were decided on points. To add intrigue to the conspiracy theorists’ cocktail, all of those fights came against Thai competitors who had home advantage, with the games being held in Nakhon Ratchasima. Two of the Filipino fighters elected to forfeit at the opening bell and four more did so during their bouts.

High and dry
In 2009, the SEA Games became the no-sea games when it was held in landlocked Laos. The tournament’s organising committee was subjected to great criticism for reducing the number of sports almost by half, from 43 at the previous event to just 25 in Vientiane. This was partly due to a general lack of sporting facilities in the Lao capital, but the nation’s non-existent coastline also rendered a host of sports, such as windsurfing, sailing and triathlon, impossible. The Philippines had offered its help as a co-host so that the events could take place but Laos refused, fuelling speculation that Vientiane was attempting to boost its place on the medal table by chopping events in which it had little experience.

Photo by AP. Cheat: players from Vietnam and Myanmar tussle for the ball at the 2005 SEA Games, in a match where eight Vietnam players were accused of match-fixing

To add intrigue to the conspiracy theorists’ cocktail, all of those fights came against Thai competitors who had home advantage, with the games being held in Nakhon Ratchasima.

The fix is on
The football event at the 2005 SEA Games was mired in controversy after eight players on the Vietnam national team were accused of fixing a game against Myanmar. The country’s star striker Pham Van Quyen was one of the players accused of receiving $378,000 to ensure that Vietnam won the game by a single goal. Despite being strong favourites against a weak Myanmar side, the fixers seemed to oblige when the Vietnamese scraped a 1-0 win. Fourteen months later, two of the players were jailed: vice-captain Le Quoc Vuong received six years for organising the fix, while Truong Tan Hai got a three-year sentence for acting as a middleman. The six other players received suspended sentences.

Man on the run
Indonesia’s hosting of the 2011 games became a controversy magnet and media circus after the Democratic Party treasurer, Muhammad Nazaruddin, was accused of accepting $3m in bribes relating to tenders for the construction of the athletes’ village in Palembang. Aside from the serious allegations, things really heated up when Nazaruddin fled the country the day before a travel ban was due to come into effect and spent 75 days on the run. He sent serious accusations of his own via Skype and Facebook, before being tracked down and arrested in Colombia and flown home on a private jet. The dramatic chase arguably brought the SEA Games more publicity worldwide than ever before and everything ended well when the bad guy received almost five years in prison in April 2012.

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