MALAYSIA— Despite fielding the fifth largest contingent of 677 athletes and setting a target of winning 40 gold medals at the 32nd Southeast Asian Games, Malaysians were left disheartened as the country recorded its worst-ever performance in the SEA Games, raising concerns about the future of Malaysian sports.
Datuk Mohd Nasir Ali, Malaysia’s Chef de Mission (CDM) for the 2023 SEA Games, issued an apology to all Malaysians after the national team fell short of achieving the 40-gold medal target.
The 32nd Southeast Asian Games, known as Cambodia 2023, was a biennial multi-sport event that took place from 5 to 17 May 2023, in various cities in Cambodia, including Phnom Penh.
This marked Cambodia’s first time hosting the SEA Games, bringing together participants from 11 Southeast Asian countries competing in 37 different sports. The games featured 581 medal events, an increase from the previous edition held in Hanoi in 2021, which included 526 events across 40 sports.
The games concluded on Tuesday, May 16, with Vietnam clinching the top spot on the medal table with 136 gold medals, followed by Thailand with 108 and Indonesia with 87.
The host nation, Cambodia, achieved its best-ever performance in SEA Games history by finishing fourth with 81 gold medals.
Malaysian contingent earning a total of 175 medals
The Malaysian contingent secured the seventh position in the overall rankings, earning a total of 175 medals, including 34 gold, 45 silver, and 96 bronze.
In the previous 2021 SEA Games held in Vietnam, Malaysia finished in sixth place. The only other instance when Malaysia achieved the sixth position was during the 1983 SEA Games in Singapore.
To compound the disappointment, Malaysia finished behind host Cambodia, as well as Singapore and the Philippines.
Despite Singapore sending a smaller contingent consisting of 558 athletes, they returned with an impressive tally of 51 gold, 43 silver, and 64 bronze medals.
Malaysia media described the outcome as a “heartbreaking game” for Malaysia
The New Straits Times, a Malaysian media outlet, in an article described the outcome as a “heartbreaking game” for Malaysia, raising questions about the state of Malaysian sports and the reasons behind the significant decline in performance.
The article noted that the outcome is particularly difficult to accept when considering the substantial number of Malaysian athletes who participated in the games, as their efforts did not translate into a proportional number of gold medals, resulting in a disappointing overall seventh-place finish.
“It is embarrassing for Malaysia considering the supposedly advancement in our sports science and the millions invested, ” the article described, adding that Malaysia also unexpectedly lost some gold medals in cricket, indoor hockey and sepak takraw — a total of six gold.
Malaysia’s CDM apologised
On May 17, Malaysia’s CDM to the 2023 SEA Games, Datuk Mohd Nasir Ali, issued an apology to all Malaysians for the national contingent’s inability to reach the targeted 40-gold medal achievement at the biennial Games.
However, he acknowledged the efforts of the 677 athletes who represented Malaysia, describing the collection of a total of 175 medals as the “best achievement that could be produced”.
“I humbly wish to apologise if the 40-gold target was something hoped for but we didn’t achieve it. “But the 34 gold won are medals of quality, I am confident that we can improve on this 34-gold haul,” he said as reported by Malaysia state media Bernama.
Mohd Nasir reiterated his belief that the 40-gold target was a realistic goal, emphasizing his commitment to improving Malaysia’s performance in future competitions.
According to Bernama, sports analyst Datuk Dr Pekan Ramli urged the Malaysian government to take Malaysia’s poor performance in the SEA Games seriously.
He called upon the National Sports Council (NSC) and national sports associations (NSAs) to take immediate action in addressing the decline in performance.