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SEA Games fires up Hanoi after Covid delay

Malaysia's Nur Dhabitah Sabri won the first gold at the SEA Games in Hanoi.

 

The SEA Games open in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi on Thursday after a six-month Covid delay with Southeast Asian pride at stake in everything from football to bodybuilding and eSports.

More than 5,000 athletes including Olympic champions are vying for over 500 gold medals in the event, which is staged every two years, in what should be packed arenas.

The 11-nation Games include traditional Olympic sports such as athletics, swimming and boxing, but also regional ones like sepak takraw, an eye-catching volleyball-style game where teams kick a rattan ball.

Thailand’s taekwondo world number one Panipak Wongpattanakit and Philippine weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, who both won gold at last year’s Tokyo Olympics, are among the top athletes on display.

Singaporean swimmer Joseph Schooling, who won the city-state’s historic first Olympic gold in 2016, is juggling national military service back home with participating and hopes to regain his scintillating past form.

Host nations typically include sports in which they perform well, helping them clinch numerous golds but leading to criticism that it detracts from the prestige of the competition.

However, with 40 sports in this edition, down from 56 in Manila in 2019, Vietnam insists it is seeking a “fair Games” with little space for local sports.

“The hosts will have to fight as hard as other teams to earn golds against powerhouses, especially Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia,” Games organising committee deputy head Tran Duc Phan said on state-owned Vietnam News.

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This 31st edition of the regional spectacular will be the first to feature xiangqi, also known as Chinese chess, which is wildly popular in the host country. These Games will also see the return of Vietnamese martial art vovinam.

The opening ceremony is on Thursday though some competitions have begun

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