Malaysia’s SEA Games was plagued by multiple blunders – but organiser promises closing ceremony will be ‘a blast’

Fireworks during the opening ceremony of the 29th SEA Games at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil on August 19, 2017.
The Straits Times

When your event has drawn flak from around the region for numerous organising gaffes throughout its run, what do you do?

Promise a closing ceremony so majestic that it’ll blow critics away, of course.

To be held on Aug 30, the SEA Games closing ceremony will coincide with Merdaka, Malaysia’s 60th year of independence, and anticipation has been building up all across Malaysia.

Saw Teong Hin, 55, creative director for the 29th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Kuala Lumpur was quoted by New Straits Times as saying that he expects double the level of excitement because of the two celebrations coinciding.

“Audiences will be blown away with another exciting round of colour, culture and creativity,” he said in a quote carried by the news website.

“I expect it to be a blast,” he added.

And Mr Saw has good reason to believe so.

After all, the glitzy opening ceremony at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium on Aug 19 was hailed as a huge success, with many Malaysians reportedly lauding the organisers for putting on a memorable show.

According to the Malay Mail Online, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi even praised it as the best SEA Games opening he has ever seen.

This positive and upbeat attitude is a welcomed one, especially after the sporting event was beset by several logistical issues and gaffes spurring outrage from participating nations.

Here’s a look back at some of the mistakes which made headlines across the region in less than a week.

Flag blunders

On Aug 19, Indonesian Youth and Sports Minister Imam Nahrawi tweeted a picture of the SEA Games souvenir book with the Indonesian flag printed upside down, saying that the “good opening ceremony” was “spoiled by this fatal negligence that was very painful”.

This incident prompted a formal apology from the Malaysian organising committee (MASOC), which called it “an inadvertent error” after Indonesian President Joko Widodo told reporters the incident concerned “national pride”.

Following the faux pas, BBC reported that Indonesian hackers claimed to have attacked several Malaysian websites, displaying a message which says: “My national flag is not a toy”.

Although the organisers apology was accepted by Indonesia in this case, it was not the only flag-related mistake to plague the games.

According to Indonesian news outlet KiniNews, a page showing past winners of the 26th games wrongly swapped and printed the flags for Indonesia and Thailand, resulting in confusion over which country actually ranked first.

In addition, during a synchronised swimming duet at the Aquatic centre in Bukit Jalil, Twitter users pointed out that the wrong flag of Brunei was used on the digital scoreboard.

Instead of using the national flag of Brunei, the armed forces flag of the sultanate was displayed, which has an extra red stripe running diagonally across the centre.

Logistical issues

On Aug 17, the Myanmar women’s football team’s bus failed to arrive on time, leaving the players stranded at the Shah Alam Stadium after a 5-0 victory over Malaysia.

The delay reportedly lasted close to an hour before a bus finally arrived to transport them back to their hotel.

It was later discovered that police had arrested their 27-year-old Malaysian driver for stealing a local player’s watch and for driving without a license.

The arrest occurred during the match and a replacement driver was not found in time, resulting in the no-show and delay, reported Today.

A day earlier (Aug 16), fans of the Myanmar men’s football team match against Laos were allegedly turned away at the gates due to lack of seats in their section.

The team uploaded a complaint on Facebook, adding that even their own players “were not able to seat (sic), watch and support inside the stadium”.

Left without a choice, fans had to seek alternatives, peeking over banners surrounding the Shah Alam stadium in a bid to show their support.

Ungracious behaviour

In addition to technical and operational problems, Malaysian fans also drew criticism for their disorderly behaviour during a match with Singapore on Aug 16.

Footage of fans chanting “Singapore dogs” have been circulating online, angering many Singaporeans. The contentious chant was also used in 2012 during a Suzuki cup game.

MASOC has called the incident “highly regrettable”, according to Free Malaysia Today, and added that “fans are urged to refrain from chanting offensive religious or racial slurs at all times”.

Despite all the challenges faced, MASOC was said to have acted quickly to resolve issues whenever they cropped up, according to Today.

Khairy Jamaluddin, chairman of the committee and Minister of Youth and Sports promised that glitches will be fixed and people should not believe everything they read.

“We will clarify from time to time,” he added.