Sunday, June 23, 2024
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Brunei Town

Putting their best foot forward

Fadhil Yunus

As the region welcomes the highly-anticipated Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Hanoi, Vietnam this week, preparations have been in full swing, although largely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The sporting scene in Brunei Darussalam has been muted over the last couple of years, but its involvement in the region’s premier multi-sport festival provides a cause for optimism.

Strict restrictions laid out during the second wave of the pandemic last August, exacerbated by the emergence of the Omicron variant, disrupted the preparations of national athletes, particularly those who planned to make an appearance at major international meets. The SEA Games, traditionally held every two years, will mark the resumption of sports competitions – outside of football in Southeast Asia – since the start of the pandemic.

While domestic football leagues have already resumed, other mainstream sports commonly held before the pandemic, will once again move to the fore.

Tough measures and lockdowns enforced in a majority of the ASEAN countries dealt a heavy blow to sporting events such as swimming and table tennis, particularly junior competitions.

In April 2020, the Amateur Swimming Union of Malaysia (ASUM) informed swimming federations of Southeast Asian countries about the postponement of the 44th Southeast Asian Age Group (SEA AG) Swimming Championships in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The event serves as a platform for up-and-coming young swimmers, viewed as the succeeding generation in the SEA Games, to showcase their talents.

Similarly, the best table tennis prospects had to wait for their shot at glory following the postponement of the annual Southeast Asian Junior and Cadet Table Tennis Championships in view of the pandemic.

The growing vaccination rate across the world has contributed to the resumption of sporting activities, with the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup a notable event relating to the participation of Southeast Asian countries.

The SEA Games was initially scheduled to take place in Hanoi in November last year, but a spike in COVID-19 cases across numerous Vietnam provinces led to its postponement.

The revised dates from May 12-23 this year were confirmed after the government approved the proposal by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

The news came as a breath of fresh air for local athletes who have not been able to partake in physical competitions, with virtual meets serving as the only realistic avenue.

Despite uncertainty surrounding the country’s athletes in recent times, Brunei had been involved in major international competitions such as the Tokyo Olympics and the 15th FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates last year.

The country also participated in the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Under-23 Championship in February, while the national football team accepted an invitation by the Lao Football Federation to play Laos in an international friendly match in line with the FIFA window.

Additionally, the national futsal team marked their return to international competitions following their appearance at the AFF Futsal Championship in Bangkok, Thailand last month.

The national under-19 team is also currently actively preparing for the AFF Under-19 Championship scheduled to be held in Jakarta, Indonesia in July.

As per tradition, a national flag handover ceremony graced by His Royal Highness Prince Haji Sufri Bolkiah, the President of Brunei Darussalam National Olympic Council (BDNOC), was held prior to the delegation’s trip to Hanoi.

The Sultanate is sending 16 officials and 23 athletes to the multi-sport showpiece, to compete in four sporting events – wushu, pencak silat, e-sports and karatedo. It will be Brunei’s first appearance in e-sports in the SEA Games, while wushu, pencak silat and karatedo are some of the sporting events the local national athletes fare well in.

The country enjoyed some success in the previous edition of the SEA Games in Manila, Philippines three years ago, when Brunei athletes took home two gold medals, five silver and six bronze.

Vietnam last hosted the SEA Games in 2003, with Brunei bagging one gold, one silver and eight bronze medals.