Heat is on SEA Games athletes as temperatures soar in region

The finest athletes from Southeast Asia are in their final lap of preparations as they aim to make their nations proud in the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Cambodia next month.

While some are eyeing personal bests and others hunger for medals around their necks, there is growing concern of the athletes’ performances taking a beating due to the soaring temperatures in the region.

Several Southeast Asian nations have seen record-breaking temperatures and haze in recent days. And the situation is expected to get worse as the SEA Games begin on May 5 and ends on May 17.

Authorities in Cambodia had warned of hot weather throughout April and May. The nation’s Water Resources and Meteorology Ministry had forecast temperatures to hit 39 degrees Celcius. Tak, a province in Thailand, registered 45.4 degrees Celcius on April 14 – setting a new national heat record.

Malaysian Meteorological Department director-general Muhammad Helmi Abdullah told national news agency Bernama, that as of Wednesday, the maximum daily temperature of 37 degrees Celsius was recorded in the northern states of the peninsula, and the interiors of Kelantan and Pahang.

Datuk Dr Ramlan Aziz said hydration was critical, and athletes will be asked to drink lots of fluids before and after they compete.

“When we had the World Cup in 2002, we allowed the players to step out and take a quick drink. Huge fans were also placed around the stadium to cool the area,” said Dr Ramlan, a medical officer and former National Sports Institute (NSI) chief executive officer.

Dr Ramlan added that the last thing the contingent needed was for an athlete to suffer from heatstroke.

“We must not take this lightly, but we don’t want people to be alarmed, either. After all, there will be medical personnel from NSI and its associates, and they will surely attend to the needs of our athletes.”

Sharon Wee, a former national squash player who is now deputy Chef de Mission (CDM) for the Malaysian contingent to the SEA Games, said athletes and officials have been told to drink lots of fluids and take extra precautions.

“We can’t change what we can’t change (the weather) but as athletes, we have to make sure we adapt to these conditions. This includes drinking lots of water, staying hydrated, and staying in the shade where possible,” said Wee.

“The hydration part is really important and I’m sure the nutritionists from the National Sports Institute will assist. We are experiencing the hot weather here, too.”

Wee said ice packs and ice baths were important but it was vital for the athletes to be mentally prepared for the worst.

“This is especially so for athletes competing outdoors. Datuk Shalin Zulkifli (the other deputy CDM) and I will also join NSI psychologists and speak to the athletes. We will take steps to minimise the risks.”

Malaysians have been told to brace for hot, drier and hazy days. Two areas in the country – Kota Bharu, Kelantan (Air Pollutant Index of 121) and Johan Setia, Selangor (API of 152) recorded unhealthy air levels as of 1pm.

There have been conversations regarding climate change and global warming in the region. Meanwhile, the haze – mainly due to open burning and rapid industrialisation – has been an annual problem in the region for decades.

It remains unclear if the organisers of the SEA Games will use the multi-sports event as a platform to raise awareness on the effects of climate change and how sports can tackle the issue.

Dr Ramlan said the narrative regarding climate change must be put out by the organisers, and not the participating member states.

“Out of courtesy, and behind the scenes perhaps, there should be some conversations about this. Maybe, they could also issue an appropriate statement, so that people will understand the gravity of the situation.”

“But whether it will be done with all sincerity or not, that is something we will never know,” Ramlan added.

Wee admitted more can be done to tackle global warming.

“We don’t talk much about climate change, only a small group talks about it,” said Wee.

“We need to create awareness, and spread that awareness, especially among our children,” she added.

Main image: Cambodia 2023 

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