MANILA, February 13, 2004  (STAR) By Joaquin Henson - Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Celso Dayrit yesterday denied hatching an insidious plot to rig the sports that will be played when the country hosts the 23rd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in 2005.

Dayrit recently announced a list of 22 priority disciplines for the next SEA Games, raising a howl from Malaysia and Singapore officials because traditional Olympic sports like football, badminton, karate, shooting, tennis and weightlifting were excluded.

The howl reached a crescendo when Dayrit inserted the Filipino martial art of arnis and dancesport in the roster.

Dayrit, however, stressed the list is far from final. He said only the SEA Games Federation can decide the sports calendar even as the host country has the prerogative to rule out events because of lack of facilities.

"The host country has the privilege of submitting a list of preferred sports but it is up to the Federation to decide the final agenda," explained Dayrit. "The Federation decides on the basis of a consensus. A vote is taken. For a sport to be played, at least four countries must participate. There are 11 countries in Southeast Asia. Our goal is to involve more countries in competing in as many sports as possible."

Dayrit said the SEA Games and the Olympics share a common perspective of athletic competition. The difference is in the Olympics, the arena is the world, he noted. Dayrit added that in the SEA Games tradition, indigenous sports are played as in other regional competitions like the South Asia Games where kabaddi is an event. In Southeast Asia, indigenous sports like sepak takraw and pencak silat are staples although they are not in the Olympic calendar.

At the SEA Games in Vietnam last year, the host country introduced fin swimming and shuttlecock juggling. Vietnam took 13 of 16 golds at stake in fin swimming which is not recognized as an event by the International Swimming Federation.

Dayrit said only two golds will be on the line in dancesport and up to eight in arnis. Two other sports the POC listed as priority are baseball and softball. Two golds will be up for grabs in softball and one in baseball.

"If you add up the proposed golds in dancesport, softball, baseball and arnis, you won’t reach the 16 that fin swimming staked in Vietnam," said Dayrit. "If people claim we are maneuvering to become the overall champion in 2005 by including those sports, they’re wrong because even a sweep of those sports won’t make a difference. We will enjoy no distinct advantage."

Dayrit said he couldn’t ignore dancesport because it is recognized by the International Olympic Committee, baseball and softball because they’re popular among Filipinos, and arnis because it is an indigenous sport like sepak takraw and pencak silat.

"The final decision will be fair," he said. "The discussion will be open. Some people just don’t understand and realize the rules. As the host country, we submitted an initial list of 22 sports even if we’re planning to eventually make it 30 or 32. To be polite to our neighboring countries, we couldn’t submit 30 outright because we want to encourage their suggestions."

Dayrit said Vietnam struck out golf and bowling because the hosts claimed they had no facilities. In Kuala Lumpur in 2001, canoeing was deleted for the same reason. Dayrit said field hockey will not be in the 2005 list since there is no playing court here.

Dayrit said it was a normal reaction for Malaysia and Singapore to wonder why football and badminton were not in the POC’s list of 22 sports. "Definitely, they will be in the calendar," he continued. "We will support those sports. We’d just like other countries to be involved in drawing up the final list."

Dayrit said horsetrading is not a practice in deciding the sports. He dismissed the suggestion of standardizing the SEA Games agenda by sticking only to Olympic disciplines. "If that’s the case, then we’ll strike out billiards, golf, bowling, pencak silat and sepak takraw," he said. "The Federation has guidelines, reference points and a formula to determine the final list of sports. The host has no right to insist on a particular sport. But it can reject a sport if it has no capability of staging it."

The SEA Games Federation will convene in Manila early next month to decide the list of sports for 2005.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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