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General view during the opening ceremony of the Southeast Asian Games at the Philippine Arena, Bocaue, Philippines on November 30. -Reuters
General view during the opening ceremony of the Southeast Asian Games at the Philippine Arena, Bocaue, Philippines on November 30. -Reuters

WE are a very divided world. Even the United Nations doesn’t unify. So it is only natural for us to look for things that connect.

One such thing is sports. Take the case of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Here, the unifying power of sports was in full display when athletes of the divided North and South Koreas marched together, bearing the flag of a single Korea. The two Koreas even became one in the women’s ice hockey team.

Impressed, the New York Times screamed: “The most dramatic gesture of reconciliation between them in a decade.”

Even chief executives are falling under the spell of sports. Mark Ein, founder and chief executive officer of America’s Venturehouse Group, extols the unifying virtues of sports in a post on the World Economic Forum website thus: “As we think about the forums that unite us as people, regardless of background or beliefs, it is hard to think of many as powerful as the stadiums we fill to cheer for our favourite teams and players, or the fields where we play together for pleasure and exercise.”

He is right, or shall we say, he was right. Of late, sports have begun to disappoint. Big time. Even at the Olympic Games, winter or summer. Winning is all that matters, even if it means doping for gold.

Sadly, Southeast Asia’s Olympics of sorts — the Sea Games — is no different. Here, host countries turn inventive, even bizarrely so, just to top the gold tally. Picture pushing a puck into the opponent’s goal post with a hockey stick at the bottom of a swimming pool. This is what the Philippines has introduced in the 30th Sea Games that opened on Nov 30. You can call it Octopush or underwater hockey, but this is no way to be in the pool. Getting people to be attired in snorkels, fins and sticks isn’t at all a sporting way to reach the top of the gold tally.

Just because the English invented it, it doesn’t mean we have to mimic them. If this isn’t enough, there is more: kurash wrestling and arnis martial art.

Malaysia isn’t blameless either. We, too, added sports with our eyes set on the medal tally. Think the 29th Sea Games and winter sports. It is true that the Sea Games hasn’t placed any limit on the sports that can be added, but this isn’t the best way for the host to get to the podium.

SEA Games, like the Olympics, was conceived with a grander purpose: sports as a unifier. The Olympics hasn’t stopped trying to unite the Koreas — they have marched as one in nine Olympics. Gold or no gold.

The SEA Games must do the same — unify the region through sports. Gold or no gold. Like China did in the 1970s through its ping-pong diplomacy that ended 25 years of “cold war” with the United States.

The matches may have been mere exhibition games, but they brought two different nations together.

Not as arnis is doing at the 30th Sea Games: fracturing rather than unifying. Little wonder the games is at sea.

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