International contests keep the flag flying

Fadhil Yunus

There is always an element of national pride in hosting a major international competition, especially involving countries that boast a sporting pedigree and unparalleled quality, distinguishing them from other nations.

Therefore, it is natural to assume that the global spotlight falls on a specific country or city designated as a host, whether it is for an individual sport like the World Athletics Championships or a major multi-sport meet such as the Olympic Games.

It is every country’s interest to win a bid and earn hosting rights for a prestigious competition due to a number of underlying factors including boosting tourism and economic prospects.

Hosting a major competition will indirectly provide an advertisement to the host country through welcoming visitors from all around the world.

Brunei Darussalam is no exception and has hosted several major competitions both at the regional and continental level over the years.

The 20th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games officially opened by His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam on August 7, 1999 is arguably the major multi-sport event at the regional level in the country.

The launching marked the start of the hunt for 235 gold, 235 silver and 319 bronze medals by 2,347 athletes from 10 SEA countries.

The Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium. PHOTO: FADHIL YUNUS

Brunei enjoyed one of the finest moments in their history of the biennial meet after winning four gold, 12 silver and 31 bronze medals.

With all eyes turning to Bandar Seri Begawan, it was the first time that the SEA Games was held on Borneo Island.

The country also showcased its venues such as the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium for football, Aquatic Centre of the Hassanal Bolkiah National Sports Complex for swimming and the National Tennis Centre for tennis.

The opening ceremony coloured with traditional and cultural performances also confirmed Brunei’s demonstration to join their allies Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines in staging the SEA Games at least once.

Brunei was also the first country to introduce the mascot in the form of a child – Awang Budiman. Dressed in national attire, the mascot symbolised energy, cheerfulness and optimism.

Previous hosts introduced mascots in the form of animals including a turtle (Johan) for Kuala Lumpur 1989, Siamese cats in Chiang Mai in 1995 and white monkeys (Hanuman) in Jakarta in 1997.

Since the roaring success of the SEA Games before the turn of the millennium, Brunei has also played host to several individual sports bringing in an array of world-class talent from overseas.

Brunei’s biggest international badminton competition to date was arguably the World Badminton Grand Finals.

The Brunei Open in badminton during the 1990s attracted big names including men’s singles winners Rashid Sidek of Malaysia and Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia.

Meanwhile, the first ever professional golf tournament in the country was the Brunei Open in 2005, with Australian Terry Pilkadaris triumphing in the Asian Tour-sanctioned event until its final tournament in 2010.

The international golfing scene was revived in 2019 following the hosting of the Butra HeidelbergCement Brunei Championship sanctioned by the Asian Development Tour (ADT).

In 2010, the local billiards community was in awe when legendary icons headlined the Asia vs Europe 9-Ball Team Challenge at the Sutra Hall of The Rizqun International Hotel in Gadong.

In the red and Asia corner, the star-studded line-up included the legendary icon Efren Reyes and leading names Francisco Bustamante and Ko Pin Yi while in the blue and Europe corner, two-time world champion Ralf Souquet and Englishman Darren Appleton made it a clash of the heavyweights.

Bustamante tasted greater success later that year when he became world nine-ball champion after defeating Kuo Po-Cheng in the final while his teammate Ko Pin Yi won the world title five years later.

Souquet was already renowned as a master of the game having won at the world stage twice in 1996 and 2008 while Appleton later joined a fine company of world champions after taking the crown in 2012.

In 2013, netball became the main sporting focus as the country hosted the prestigious Asian Youth Netball Championship at the Indoor Stadium of the Hassanal Bolkiah National Sports Complex.

In racket sports, Brunei hosted the Southeast Asian Junior and Cadet Table Tennis Championships twice in 2005 and 2014.

The best of youth in the region was on display at the Southeast Asian Age Group (SEA AG) Swimming Championships in Brunei in 2017. It was the third time that the country has held the event following previous editions in 2005 and 2013.

The most recent international competition that Brunei hosted was the 10th Asian Junior Wushu Championship in August 2019.