PHILIPPINE Olympic Committee president Abraham Tolentino pleaded to the national team to double their efforts amid the decision of 2023 Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) host Cambodia to impose limitations in participation in combat sports.

“Our athletes should focus harder and train more to get to the podium,” said Mr. Tolentino.

The Cambodians approved with finality a 608-event, 49-sport calendar in the biennial meet in their capital Phnom Penh while implementing a rule limiting other countries 70 percent participation in combat sports against the hosts 100 percent participation.

The decision impedes the country’s hope on improving its fourth-place finish in the last edition in Hanoi last May.

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

Mr. Tolentino said Cambodia initially delisted the 50 kgs class in women’s kumite of karate — an event by World Games gold medalist Junna Tsukii — but was prevailed upon to reconsider.

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.

Also conspicuous, Mr. 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 [Yulo] won’t have a shot at,” said Mr. Tolentino.

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

But just like in the past, those were just the perks of the host nation. — Joey Villar