SEA Games can host diplomatic talks on Myanmar junta saga

Southeast Asian leaders dished out optimistic statements, claiming the Asean Leaders’ Meeting last Saturday had succeeded in addressing the Myanmar crisis.

However, regional observers were not overly excited as they believe more action needs to be seen to convince the people in Myanmar that democracy will be restored after the military overthrew the government in February.

The talks could prolong. If that happens, the year-end SEA Games could serve as an avenue for more diplomatic discussions on the saga.

“There are many avenues for leaders from the region to discuss the situation in Myanmar and the SEA Games is one of them,” said SEA Games Federation honorary member Datuk Sieh Kok Chi.

“After all, there is nothing wrong with discussing such matters during the Games but the spirit of the Games must be upheld at all times.”

The SEA Games, also known as the Friendship Games, will be from Nov 21-Dec 2 in Hanoi, Vietnam. The biennial multi-sports event is participated by Southeast Asian nations.

“I think the bigger question is if Myanmar will be sending a team. Or perhaps they will be represented by a smaller team this time. Just look at North Korea. The country has pulled out from the Olympics, citing Covid-19 as a reason but do you really think it’s just about the fear of getting the coronavirus?

“Due to the battle against Covid-19 since last year and the shift in power, will Myanmar have the resources to send its athletes for the competition?

“It’s not a question of the government wanting to take part in the SEA Games but if the respective associations want to do so, they have every right to compete. The SEA Games Federation is not governed by any political agreement.

“But their concern will be if the military government will sponsor their preparation and trip to Vietnam,” he said.

Sieh pointed out that Myanmar had been under military rule in the past but that had not stopped its athletes from competing in major sporting events.

He, however, said the SEA Games should not be used as a tool to add pressure on the junta to restore democracy in the country.

“Realistically, we have seen political discussions on the sidelines of sporting events in the past and leaders are free to do so. But no one should use sports or a sports event to add political pressure on any nation. That goes against the spirit of sports,” he added.