The 26th SEA Games in
Indonesia has been another
demonstration of how a
crowd can affect a result.
National fencer Huzaimi Abd
Kassim (R), for example, failed
to recover in the individual
sabre event after trailing his
opponent early in the match.
Brunei must work hard from now to return to top of podium at Myanmar 2013
Nineteen days, eight sports and thousands of kilometres the 26th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games has been memorable to say the least.
Equal parts fun, fatigue and frustration, the biennial tournament has gone by in a blur of traffic jams, coffees and cigarettes though to be honest, better results would have helped make the writing much more agreeable.
Brunei's involvement in the football competition started on Nov 5, and while they failed to make it past the group stage, their return after 10 years was a talking point in itself.
Like the football team, most of Brunei's athletes aren't at the level to compete for medals at the Asian Games or Olympics yet. That's hardly news, and something this scribe knew before even touching down at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta three weeks ago.
The Games' real importance for athletes, coaches and administrators alike is that it provides them the opportunity to truly gauge where the country stands in sports.
For those that write about these athletes, it is a chance we seldom get to see whether all their training pays off.
Some might say a bit condescendingly perhaps that since Brunei finished at the bottom of the medals table without a gold medal to its name, Brunei's athletes just aren't good enough to compete in the region.
I beg to differ.
"Though they have proved beyond a doubt that they have the ability and talent to go up against other countries, it is in other quarters in which they are lacking.
Mentally, Brunei's athletes are just not at the level to consistently hold their own.
In my opinion, this boils down to a lack of competitive exposure.
The Games has been another demonstration of how a crowd can affect a result. Some would argue athletes are not fully focused at the task at hand if they are not blocking these noises and sights out, and admittedly, it can be a tough act to master.
In most cases, the most deafening support has been for the hosts who end the Games as overall champions with 182 gold, 151 silver and 143 bronze medals.
But it is sadly surprising to note the number of athletes interviewed who have said they were intimidated by the atmosphere at their venues.
Once the mental game is lost, the rest will soon follow.
Take for example the football team, who when taking to the field in a must-win match against Vietnam, let in a goal in the opening minute and three more before the first quarter of an hour.
They failed to recover it would have been Brunei's highlight of the Games if they did and went on to lose 8-0.
Or fencer Huzaimi Abd Kassim in the individual sabre event, who also facing a must-win match against Thailand's Ruangrit Haekerd to book his berth in the quarter-finals, trailed 6-0 before eventually being handed a 15-8 defeat.
Karateka Mohammad Fadilah Sanif was out of sorts in his men's below 60kg kumite final against Jintar Simanjuntak, and losing 8-0 to the Indonesian, who enjoyed some fanatic encouragement from the crowd, displayed none of the prowess which characterised his run to the championship match.
The national 10-pin bowling team, who were third heading into the second block of two three-block games, eventually finished last in the field of 13 teams.
Sure, a psychologist has been brought in to remedy the situation, but building mental fortitude is not as easy as flicking a lightbulb on or off.
And no matter how many hours the athletes spend with the psychologist there is no substitute for competitive experience, being in the arena, hearing the crowd, being blinded by the flashes.
Time and time again Brunei coaches have complained that the country has sent too small of a team, and this is another issue that absolutely needs to be addressed during the de-breifings after the teams get back home.
Other countries have not been reluctant to put forward a multitude of athletes, who though might be inexperienced, can now use the Games as priceless competitive exposure.
Taking to a playing field in one's own country and in a highly tense atmosphere like the SEA Games, where bragging rights and national pride is on stake, is a totally different ball game.
If the country is serious on making sure it doesn't finish last again during the next 2013 Myanmar SEA Games proper support is also key allowances, food, transport, nutrition are just the start.
Athletes have sacrificed their time, relationships, jobs and studies to train hard for the country, and it is only fair their efforts are duly recognised throughout the year.
It is not uncommon to hear stories of coaches or managers having to dig into their own pockets to feed their athletes, a trend which must not continue.
The coaches must also be given more leeway in naming their squads because at the end of the day, they are the ones who have to take the blame or credit for their athletes' performance so they should know who deserve to represent the country or not.
Coaches have to sit down with their associations and officials from the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports to air their grievances, explain the situation they might be in and make a case for their cause. They require help to develop the nation's athletes, help which frankly could be better. We have some of the best coaches in the region and they have to be fully utilised.
The coaches have also complained about biased refereeing, and though it may sound like a case of sour grapes, in many instances it looked like they had a valid point.
It would take a fool to argue that hidden agendas and sub-plots are not present in subjective events in sports like pencak silat or wushu. It is simply perplexing how Hj Md Khairul Bahrin Hj Duraman, who won Brunei's only gold in Laos two years ago, was unable even to get on the podium in the men's seni tunggal because his performance certainly merited it.
The pencak silat tournament has been rife with allegations of biased refereeing and poor sportsmanship, and that the judges don't ask why there were Europeans honestly reward each competitor the mark he or she deserves and feel that the athletes' nationality does not affect their decision, is perhaps too much to ask.
What is not too much to ask for is to hear Brunei's national anthem being played during the medal ceremony, a fleeting hope which I would wake up to everyday and one that helped keep me motivated as I went from venue to venue.
It is the ultimate distinction any athlete can receive and one that makes them equal, if only just for a couple of minutes, to heads of state in which the honour is usually reserved for.
That has to change in Myanmar and the lyrics of "Allah Peliharakan Sultan" must once again ring out loud and clear.
The time to make sure that will happen is now.
Courtesy from Brunei Times