Hosting Sea Games Creates Avenue For New Champions - Jegathesan

Tan Sri Dr M Jegathesan
13/06/2024 01:09 PM

By Vikneswaran Raman

KUALA LUMPUR, June 13 (Bernama) -- Former national track and field legend Tan Sri Dr M. Jegathesan backs the call for Malaysia to host the 34th SEA Games in 2027, to create opportunities for more new and young talents to emerge on the international stage.

Nicknamed the ‘Flying Doctor’ for his record-breaking feats and legacy in the sprint events, Dr Jegathesan believes that the SEA Games, previously known as the Southeast Asian (SEAP) Games, has served the purpose of allowing the growth of talent at the grassroots, and ultimately succeed in producing champions over the years. 

The former Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) deputy president said splitting the SEA Games into different cities apart from the traditional model of hosting in Klang Valley, will benefit different people, while the cost and management can be spread out. 

Dr Jegathesan, however, pointed out that the ultimate decision on whether to host the Games will depend on the people, who have to be responsible for delivering it because only they know the amount of work involved and what kind of resources they have. 

“If you don't create grassroots opportunities, champions can't emerge. SEA Games play a crucial role in discovering and developing talent, serving as the foundation of international competition for Southeast Asians.

“Even world-class level athletes depend on the grassroots to develop, because it is from large numbers that the champions will emerge. Success in the SEA Games leads to the Asian Games, and eventually the Commonwealth and Olympic Games. Hosting these events is advantageous when resources permit,” he told Bernama in an exclusive interview. 

The Youth and Sports Ministry is currently analysing the impact of organising the 2027 SEA Games and will present the outcomes to the Cabinet next month after the SEA Games Federation (SEAGF) Council Members in May 2022, unanimously agreed to grant the right to host to Malaysia.

Malaysia, a vocal member of the ASEAN, had hosted the biennial games six times previously - 1965, 1971, 1977, 1989, 2001 and 2017 - and all the editions were held in the Klang Valley. 

 Dr Jegathesan, who had served as the administrator, medical officer and dope buster at the national and international levels, believes hosting the SEA Games yields benefits for the country in sports development, economics, and fostering sports interest.

“How money is spent depends on those in authority, but when it comes to the SEA Games, the value gained is undeniable. It not only cultivates champion athletes but also enhances the country's image, producing lasting impressions of the abilities as well as the talents in organising and delivering sports programmes to people.  

“It also ignites public excitement, fosters national pride, and revitalises societal interest in various activities. For host cities, such events also boost the economy by attracting visitors and showcasing local offerings, leading to increased spending and growth,” he said. 

On the selection of sports and events to be contested, the first-ever winner of the National Sportsman honour when the National Sports was introduced in 1966, agreed that the combination of both Olympic events and sports with regional interests such as sepak takraw and pencak silat would be ideal. 

“We have regional interest and many of the sports practised in SEA Games are not globally exciting for them to include in the Olympic Games. But it is very important for people in the region. So, while we go for Olympic sports to excel in the global atmosphere, the fact remains that we also have to provide opportunities for regional sports to strive and survive,” he added. 

The ‘Flying Doctor,’ who blazed the tracks in the 1960s with multiple Asian Games gold medals, shared that his international debut was the first edition of the SEAP Games (now known as SEA Games) in 1959 in Bangkok at the age of 16 and was part of the men’s 4x400m relay that won silver. 

Being a school kid, Dr Jegathesan boarded his first flight excitedly, without knowing that it would lead him to a glittering athletics career to the extent of representing the country in three consecutive Olympics - 1960 Rome, 1964 Tokyo and 1968 Mexico, where he set 200m national record of 20.92s, that stood strong close to five-decade till 2017. 

Meanwhile, Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia (SRAM) Director Major (Rtd) S. Maniam also opined that the country should host the 2027 SEA Games, which would bring together people from all walks to support the national athletes.

“As a sportsman, I think we must host international events. During that two-week carnival-like atmosphere, there will be so much sporting news, glory, happiness and some sadness that comes with some defeats. But will be absolutely awesome, that cannot be replicated if the event was held elsewhere,” he said.

Maniam said hosting the Games would also benefit the athletes and the sports fraternities as the venues would be upgraded. 

He said SRAM, being one of the very few associations that continuously unearthing new talents to win medals at least at Asian and Commonwealth levels, believes SEA Games serves as a launchpad for mid and lower mid-level players to gain valuable exposure, while the national elites focus on bigger assignments. 

Maniam said if the hosting cost is among the concerns to organise the Games, the government could follow the Los Angeles (LA) 1984 Olympic Games model to privatise the SEA Games and request more corporate and Government-linked companies (GLCs) to back the effort. 

“The LA Games is one of the rare Olympics where they made money,” he said, adding that squash’s debut a year after the SEA Games in the LA 2028 Olympics would raise interest among the SEA countries to spice up the biennial competitions.