The 2017 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games remains etched in the minds of many as it saw Malaysia clinching 144 gold medals – the nation’s best-ever medal haul in the regional Games.
It also saw a host of incidents – the error in the printing of the Indonesian flag in the SEA Games souvenir book that drew backlash from the Indonesians, late or inaccurate results from the official website, the constant crashing of the Games’ official mobile application, a bus driver who was picked up by police after allegedly stealing a watch belonging to an official, the 16 Malaysian athletes who suffered food poisoning after they had breakfast at their team hotel, the assault of two Myanmar football fans following the team’s match against Malaysia, and a bus crash that left eight people injured – including two squash players from Myanmar – who had to pull out from the competition.
More importantly, the accounts for the 2017 SEA Games have yet to be made public. This, despite it already being audited, as revealed by Twentytwo13 in 2019.
It was then highlighted that Putrajaya-based auditor MGI-AlJeffri had scrutinised the numbers and found several issues, including the fact that the Malaysia Organising Committee had made a payment of RM9.56 million to a third-party vendor, without the approval of the finance committee, as an advance to set up the International Broadcasting Centre at the Malaysian International Trade and Exhibition Centre in Kuala Lumpur.
The auditor noted that the third-party company has yet to furnish any supporting documents.
While “incidents” do happen – and they have happened at bigger multi-sporting competitions – the findings from the audited SEA Games accounts, for starters, will serve as a guide to ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated.
Five years isn’t far away. Malaysia already has enough infrastructure and does not need to build more to play host as it has been given the rights to hold the 2027 SEA Games.
But before sports officials start dreaming of a SEA Games in Malaysia, they first need to get the buy-in from the government. At the moment, the nation remains on shaky political ground. Those in Putrajaya must take aggressive steps to strengthen the languishing ringgit, and further spur the economy that had been battered by the Covid-19 pandemic.
It also remains to be seen if there is enough political will to set aside funds for the regional Games, or if Malaysia pulls out from hosting the event, just as some nations had done in recent times. For the record, some RM550 million was allocated for the 2017 SEA Games.
Veteran sports administrator Datuk Sieh Kok Chi, who once served the Olympic Council of Malaysia as its secretary, had said: “The SEA Games Federation is not serious. The SEA Games is just for fun.”
“Since the government is footing the bill, it doesn’t matter as long as the auditors are happy.”
But it does matter, as it is the taxpayers – who are in the midst of filing their income tax returns online before the May 15 deadline – would want to know how their money is being spent, or if the investment is worth it, and how they will benefit, either directly or indirectly, from the hosting of the Games.
The 2017 SEA Games was essentially Kuala Lumpur-centric, which got city folk buzzing, but did not do much for those beyond the Klang Valley.
The only events held outside Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, and Putrajaya then, were cycling (in Nilai, Negeri Sembilan), equestrian (Kuala Terengganu, Terengganu), and sailing (in Langkawi, Kedah).
The performances of the athletes also come into play. For some athletes, like our world-class divers and shuttlers, the SEA Games is just a playground. For the others, like the national football and basketball teams, the SEA Games is akin to playing on the biggest stage on earth.
Some athletes shine at the SEA Games, but wither, soon after. Sprinter Khairul Hafiz Jantan, who won the 100m gold medal in the 2017 SEA Games and was celebrated as a hero, has struggled to find his form since.
Former hockey international Maninderjit Singh said Malaysia should “think big” by hosting the Asian or Commonwealth Games, as it would be “more meaningful for a high-performance nation”, adding that there were “more direct, and indirect benefits” in doing so.
Malaysia hosted the Commonwealth Games once – in 1998. The country has never hosted the Asian Games.
Vendors too, would like to know if the payments for the upcoming Games would be made promptly. There were even complaints of companies not getting paid a year after the Games ended.
Any statements from government officials at this juncture will be purely rhetorical as the nation gears up for the looming general election, and with it, a possible changing of the guard – most notably in the Youth and Sports, and Finance ministries. PR-laced quotes such as “The hosting of the SEA Games is good for Malaysia”, and “We welcome the decision by the SEA Games Federation”, are to be expected.
It’s Malaysia’s turn to host the Games in 2027, which has been slapped with labels such as “the friendship Games”, “fun Games”, and even “Games for young, upcoming athletes”. With 10 years to prepare, the clock starts now to ensure that Malaysia gets everything right – from printing the correct national flags, to vetting the volunteers who will be involved in the Games.
More importantly, the government must release the 2017 SEA Games accounts to help the new organiser plan its expenditure and allocate resources. There’s no excuse not to.
The government cannot keep such figures a secret, just like how observers are wondering how much our gold medallists have received from the special incentive that was given out by Datuk Nur Azmi Ahmad, the chef de mission of the ongoing Hanoi SEA Games, in recent days.
Malaysia cannot be spending millions of ringgit on the “friendship Games” without justifying how the nation will reap the benefits, over and beyond, what is already expected.
The taxpayers deserve to know.