APART from the challenges being posed by the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on the training regimen of Filipino athletes, presenting a threat to the Philippines in its quest to repeat as Southeast Asian (SEA) Games overall champion is the decision recently by Vietnam to reduce the number of events when it hosts the biennial sporting meet next year.

In an online meeting among SEA Games Council Federation officials last week, it was made known that host Vietnam is looking at only staging 36 sports with the pandemic still a going concern.

The number is down from the 56 sports featured in last year’s edition of the Games which Philippines hosted and, eventually, topped.

As per the list presented by Vietnam in the meeting, the sports were divided into three categories.

Category 1 has the compulsory sports athletics and aquatics (swimming and diving), while Category 2 has archery, badminton, basketball (3×3 and 5×5), billiard snooker, boxing, canoeing/kayak, chess (xiangqi), cycling (road and mountain bike), dancesport, fencing, football, futsal, golf, gymnastics (artistic, rhythmic, aerobic), handball (indoor and beach), judo, karate, muay, pencak silat, petanque, rowing, sepak takraw, shooting (pistol, rifle, shotgun), table tennis, taekwondo, tennis, volleyball (indoor and beach), weightlifting, wrestling (Greco Roman and freestyle), and wushu.

In Category 3 are finswimming, bodybuilding, kurash, kickboxing, and vovinam.

Not included in the list are sports where the Philippines did well last year and contributed to the country’s total haul of 149 gold, 117 silver and 121 bronze medals to win the overall championship anew after 14 years.

Notable omissions are arnis, which gave Team Philippines 14 gold medals, skateboarding (6), obstacle course (6), jiu-jitsu (5) and esports (3).

Local sports officials and stakeholders acknowledge that at the onset it is a setback in the country’s push to build on the gains that Philippine sports had in last year’s SEA Games and to claim the overall title once again.

They said that with a fewer number of sports to compete in, the narrower the chance of hauling more medals for Filipino athletes.

But they still remain hopeful that their appeal to include more sports in the 2021 SEA Games be considered. This is apart from their commitment to do everything they can to support Filipino athletes in their preparation despite the challenges, including that from COVID-19.

The next SEA Games Council Federation meeting is on July 21.

In the history of the biennial sporting meet, Thailand has had the most overall championships with 13, followed by Indonesia with 10. Myanmar, the Philippines and Malaysia each have two while Vietnam has one.

The Philippines was the overall champion in 2005 and 2019, years where it served as host.

The 2019 SEA Games was the biggest to date, featuring 56 sports. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo