SEA Games boss urges focus on Olympic sports

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Future Southeast Asian Games should feature fewer traditional sports and focus on Olympic events if the region's athletes are to compete at a higher level, Indonesia's organizing body said Tuesday.

Rita Subowo, president of the SEA Games organizing committee, said sports such as Indonesia's pencak silat and Vietnam's vovinam dilute the Games line-up and divert resources from the showpiece Olympic athletic disciplines.

"I have asked for future Games to focus on Olympic sports so we can qualify for the big events," Subowo, who is also a member of Indonesia's Olympic committee, told AFP.

"But every SEA Games the same thing happens. The hosts always ask for traditional sports -- the sport they are very good at -- and there's so much pressure to include it that there's nothing we can do about it."

The pressure is exerted by individual sports associations and governments keen to secure regional bragging rights with a big medal haul, she added.

A Thai representative from the nation's Olympic committee has also said the biennial SEA Games risk becoming less competitive as hosts choose niche sports favoring their athletes.

Their comments come as Indonesia streaked ahead in the medals table, harvesting 60 golds and 147 medals overall, to keep them well ahead of nearest rivals Thailand -- who have 36 golds so far.

Indonesia have enjoyed a clean sweep in the roller skating races, which debuted at the Games debut this year at their request, while indigenous martial art pencak silat is likely to see another gold glut by the hosts.

"We proposed roller sports one-and-half years ago and asked the other Games delegates for their opinion. Nobody complained at the time," Subowo added.

On Tuesday track and field has nine golds up for grabs in Palembang -- which is co-hosting the Games, giving the Thais a chance to cut the hosts' commanding medals lead.

But the men's team badminton final will likely dominate the day's competition with the hotly favorite hosts -- including former Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat -- tackling arch-rivals Malaysia in Jakarta.

"They have the advantage but I think we can give them a good fight," Malaysian coach Tam Kim Her told the New Straits Times.

"It's a final and anything can happen."

Thailand, whose gold rush on Monday was off-set by Indonesia's roller skating and karate exploits, basked in glory after besting the home side in the women's team badminton final.

But the Thais have their work cut out to eclipse Indonesia, after the home athletes continued their fine run with a sackful of golds as they target finishing with most medals at the Games for the first time since 1997.

Indonesia was awarded this year's Games in 2006 but the government has been criticized for failing to release cash to organizers Inasoc to build venues, causing an embarrassing delay to the athletes' village in Palembang.

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