THE 25th Southeast Asian Games opened in Vientiane yesterday with powerhouse Thailand eyeing another gold rush and officials hoping for an event free from accusations of biased judging.
Athletes from the 11 nations competing poured into the new 20,000-seat stadium before Laos President Choummaly Sayasone declared the Games open,
accompanied by a burst of fireworks. Athletes are competing in 28 disciplines at the 10-day biennial showpiece with Myanmar and Vietnam setting the early pace in the Laos capital with two gold medals apiece.
But the main action at the SEA Games starts today with the first batch of swimming finals, while athletics does not get under way until Sunday.
The nine-team men's Under-23 football competition also resumes today, with sides vying for semi-final spots and Thailand gunning for their ninth consecutive success in the competition.
Two years ago, then-hosts Thailand dominated the medals standings with 183 gold medals out of a total of 477 well ahead of second-placed Malaysia on 68 and Vietnam on 64.
Thailand won their eighth consecutive football title and came out on top in athletics, felling many SEA Games records, while Singapore were kings of the pool and Indonesia swept the badminton gold medals.
As well as headline events such as football, athletics, and swimming, the Games feature lesser-known sports including the martial arts karatedo and Muay Thai.
"Anything less than the overall title will be a disappointment for us," General Yuthasak Sasiprapha, president of the National Olympic Committee of Thailand, told the Bangkok Post ahead of the opening. "We expect to win about 100 gold medals."
The 2007 Games in Korat, northeastern Thailand, were marred by accusations of unfair judging.
And there was controversy this year even before the opening ceremony, with Malaysian football officials defending their team after a scuffle that saw angry players chase the referee after losing 3-1 to Vietnam.
"We have registered our strong protest and concern at the referee who seemed to be unfair and biased against the Malaysian team," said Khairy Jamaluddin, the deputy chairman of the Football Association of Malaysia.
The most dramatic episode two years ago came in the boxing ring, when six Philippine fighters retired in protest over the judging, which helped Thailand sweep all 10 boxing gold in the men's competition.
There were also accusations of favouritism in badminton, gymnastics and weightlifting. Gymnastics does not feature in Vientiane in a slimmed-down programme in which the number of disciplines is down from the 40-plus in Thailand.
Courtesy from Brunei Times