December 5, 2005

Regional games wrap up with Philippine victory

By John O'Callaghan

MANILA (Reuters) - Southeast Asia's version of the Olympics
closed on Monday with victory for the host Philippines, no
world records broken and a minor controversy over allegations
by the Thai prime minister about judging irregularities.

Handing the reins to Thailand, the next host, Philippine
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo thanked the 7,000 athletes,
officials and coaches from the 10-member Association of South
East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Timor for taking part.

"We bid you farewell with a deep sense of gratitude, warm
friendship and camaraderie," Arroyo told a cheering crowd at
the closing ceremony of music, dancing, fireworks and a parade
of participants at Manila's Luneta Park.

After finishing fourth at the last Southeast Asian Games,
the Philippines won for the first time since it joined the
event in 1977, with 113 golds and a total of 289 medals.

Thailand was second with 87 golds, followed by Vietnam with
70, Malaysia with 61, Indonesia with 48 and Singapore with 40.

"The Filipino spirit has triumphed," said Jose Cojuangco,
head of the Philippine organising committee. "The athletes' and
sport officials' hard work has paid off."

The next regional games will be held in 2007 in Thailand,
which first hosted the biennial event in 1959.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra sparked calls for an
apology by Philippine lawmakers and protesters after he cast
doubt on the fairness of the nine-day games.

Surapong Suebwonglee, the chief government spokesman in
Bangkok, had added that many Thais watching on television were
surprised at "serious problems with judging standards."

Thaksin did not directly accuse the Philippines of
favouring its own athletes but his remarks prompted Arroyo to
order an investigation, which found that judging had been


Facing threats of terrorism and bird flu, Philippine
security forces and health officials were on high alert to
screen and protect the visiting teams and large crowds
attending about 40 events on three islands. There were no major

Just days before the opening on November 27, workers had
been rushing to finish painting. Some delegations had
complained that practice venues were not ready and there was
little fanfare in the Philippines for Southeast Asia's biggest
sporting event.

Except for world-class competition in badminton, boxing and
bowling, the standards of the rest of the events tended to be
below the level of regional games in other parts of the world.

Michael Keon, a former head of the Philippine Olympic
Committee, said the low caliber reflected the relative lack of
importance governments in the region placed on sport.

"The development of sports in Southeast Asia has been
lagging behind the rest of the world," he told Reuters last
week. "In the Philippines, for instance, there's too much
politics involved."

Feuds among Philippine sports officials led to basketball,
the most popular team sport in the country, being dropped from
this year's Southeast Asian Games.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia,
Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.