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POC tempers expectations for SEAG as Cambodia fills calendar with indigenous sports

Cambodia announced recently with finality a 608-event, 49-sport 32nd Southeast Asian Games, set primarily in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap from May 5 to 16 next year.

It’s the biggest SEA Games in terms of events, but one that strongly potentially benefits the host, according to Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) President Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino.

Cambodia, Tolentino said, imposed a rule that only the host athletes could field 100-percent participation in combat sports or martial arts. On the other hand, it limits the others to vie in 70-percent of the events staked in the sport.

“That benefits the host best, while putting at risk our chances for the medals,” Tolentino said.

Tolentino was the most vocal among members of the SEA Games Federation meetings who were against the particular rule. But the Cambodians, he said, took the cue from the 2017 Games in Kuala Lumpur when Malaysia imposed a similar regulation.

“Our athletes should focus harder and train more to get to the podium,” said Tolentino, as he stressed the country’s back is against the wall to retain its fourth-place overall finish at the 31st Vietnam SEA Games last May.

Tolentino said that Cambodia also initially excluded the 50 kgs class in women’s kumite of karate, but was prevailed upon to reconsider. Filipino-Japanese Junna Tsukii is the current World Games champion and a former gold and three-time SEA Games bronze medalist in the event.

Cambodia has exercised its privilege as host to the hilt by including two indigenous sports—Kun Bokator, a martial art practices by ancient Khmer military, and Ouk Chatrang, also a Khmer chess game. They offer 21 and six gold medals, respectively.

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Also conspicuous, Tolentino added, were the mere four gold medals—two for each gender—in artistic gymnastics, which, in the Olympic and world championships programs have eight for the men and six for the women.

“Gymnastics alone means several potential golds our world champion Caloy [Carlos Yulo] won’t have a shot at,” Tolentino said.

He also noted that two sports Cambodia and its neighbor Vietnam are strong at readily catch attention—Vietnamese martial art Vovinam with 30 events and Fin Swimming with 24 events.

Tolentino, also the PhilCycling president, said the POC will again “dissect” the events before finalizing the country’s entry by numbers but emphasized a potential full participation in terms of the number of sports.

“We have time to analyze Ouk Chatrang and see if our athletes can perform well in the sport,” said Tolentino, who once served a four-year term as secretary general of the International Chess Federation or Fide and held the same position for the National Chess Federation of the Philippines for 16 years.

The fast-rising Teqball, a variation of football that is played on a curved table that resembles table tennis, is a demonstration sport in Cambodia.

The Philippines hosted the most number of sports at 56 but with 530 events in 2019, while Vietnam had a 40-sport,526-event Games last May. Brunei owns the record-low program of 22 sports and 233 events in 1999.

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