The quest for gold
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
BRUNEI Darussalam’s athletes are gearing up for the upcoming 2015 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Singapore this June.
But the recent SEA Games have not been kind to Brunei.
The Sultanate has not achieved more than one gold medal in the SEA Games since it hosted the competition in 1999.
The year 1999 was Brunei’s best ever SEA games performance with four gold, 12 silver and 31 bronze medals placing them in seventh place ahead of Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.
Since then things have been downhill, consistently ranked 10th except for the 2005 SEA Games in the Philippines where Brunei was 9th.
Brunei even fell to 11th place for the first time in the 2011 SEA Games behind Timor Leste. Although, our athletes snagged 11 medals compared to Timor Leste’s eight, its lone gold spelled the difference in the standings.
Question now is how can Brunei bounce back from being the SEA Games cellar dwellers?
Preparing for 2019
National Lawn Bowls coach Tony Scott shared that improvements in sports facilities would not necessarily bolster Brunei’s future medal tallies.
But he believes that building and completing new sports facilities as soon as possible can boost the Sultanate’s home advantage and potential performance at the 30th SEA Games in 2019 which Brunei will host.
Scott said, “The sooner, the better” since it would help Brunei’s athletes to have more time to prepare.
He added that the athletes would have more time to train, become familiar to the facilities and discover the secrets of excelling in the venue.
If completed too late then this advantage will not be as potent and Brunei’s athletes would enter the 2019 SEA Games with just a slight advantage over their regional competitors.
For national swimming coach Eric Landa, people are the key in winning. “Better facilities are not going to get more medals. They (athletes) simply need to train more and harder. The facilities in Brunei are good enough for the level that they produce,” he stressed.
“I’ve been all around the world and worked in lots of different places, ranging from poor developing countries to rich nations – and facilities are never the key to produce more medals but people are,” he said.
Sharing Scott’s sentiment, Landa said that one of the strengths Brunei has in its possession for 2019 was time. “Don’t tell the competition what sports we are doing early, or don’t tell them what facilities. We should use time to our advantage as on the other hand, time is against us to prepare all sports with only four years to go,” he said.
“Mental boosts will only get you so far, I repeat myself, Brunei needs to train more and harder and it is not about money. It is about pride and hard work with the right people – the athletes, coaches, parents and staff.”
His Royal Highness Prince Hj Sufri Bolkiah, the President of the Brunei Darussalam National Olympic Council (BDNOC), in a meeting in 2014, searched for answers on how the country could do better at the SEA Games.
The Sultanate’s best performance was in 1999 and His Royal Highness felt that looking back to that triumphant time could help provide answers.
“I feel it is good to review why the efforts and planning for the 1999 SEA Games produced excellent results. Maybe the methods and training programmes used at that time are still relevant,” he said.
Does population matter?
It is popularly believed that a large population means a wellspring of talented athletes as stiff competition will serve as an incentive for an individual to excel.
Among the Southeast Asian countries, Indonesia has the largest population with over 246 million and has topped the biennial competition eight times since joining the Games in 1977.
But this argument has limited grounds as Thailand with a population of 66 million has won the competition six times – more than the wins of Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia combined.
Ranked by population, next to Indonesia will be the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar.
Based on SEA Games records, the lesser populated countries of Cambodia, Laos, Singapore and Brunei have never penetrated into the top three. Only Singapore has finished fourth once.
Thus population is not a strong enough variable to affect a nation’s standing when it comes to sports.
In their article “Why do some countries win more Olympic medals?” – Anirudh Krishna and Eric Haglund introduced the importance of “effective participation”.
Effective participation is the percentage of population which actually has access to participate in sporting activity.
Thus regardless of how many people there are in a country, it doesn’t make much of a difference if the number of athletes sent are abysmally low.
In the Bruneian context, does this mean that Brunei should send more players to have higher chances of reeling in medals?
Not necessarily, said a coach who requested his privacy be protected.
“The idea is to squeeze out as much as you can from one athlete by having him compete in as many categories possible,” he said.
He explained that team sports such as football were wonderful because the bragging rights at stake were massive but if the goal was to score medals and be prudent than the strategy should shift.
“Imagine football. There are probably 22 players sent and maybe one coach and one officer.”
“Funding-wise, you are funding for the plane ticket for each one of the 22 players and the player’s hotel room or apartment. Then finally say all the effort pays off and we win a medal – all that only accounts to one medal.”
Brunei has never won a medal in SEA Games football although it did reached the semifinals in the 1983 biennial games and secured fourth spot.
The coach gave examples of sports where an individual can bag more than one gold medal such as in athletics track and field, swimming and fencing.
This was the case with Team USA’s Michael Phelps during the 2008 Olympics when he won eight medals and boosted the US ranking in the medal tally.
The coach, however, highlighted that this does not mean Brunei should solely focus on these sports.“I think what must come first is identifying what sports can Brunei dominate,” he said.
For example, Kenya and Ethiopia are not traditional Olympic powerhouses but the two “less financially healthy” countries continue to reliably produce strong runners.
In 1999, Brunei organised 21 sports: aquatics, athletics, badminton, basketball, billiards and snooker, bowling, boxing, cycling, fencing, football, sepak takraw, shooting, squash, table tennis, taekwondo, tennis and traditional boat race.
The coach therefore believes the sports community must heed the call of the President of the BDNOC and look back in 1999 to find out which of the sports Brunei was strongest.
“We must also not forget to include sports not contested then, where Brunei has dramatically improved such as Wushu,” he said.
“I believe Brunei’s hopes of breaking free of the medal tally curse thus depends on whether the country can find a fine line between discovering the sports it is good at and sports that can gun out more medals from just one athlete years before 2019.”
The Brunei Times