The Games that WE Play: A reflection on the Upcoming SEA Games and what they do to us.

As anyone could imagine Singapore is now bracing itself for the upcoming 28th Southeast Asian Games this coming June 05 – 16, 2015. The multi-day event will host 7000 athletes from 11 countries in the region. The number does not account for the expected spectators and perhaps many more who are affected by the logistics and economic impact of the event. While the event could be seen as a mini version of the Olympics, the impact of the games we play deserves a deeper understanding into how it affects all of us and our mindsets way past the event.

The history of the original Olympics goes as far back as ancient Greece in 8th Century B.C.. The games were supposedly played in Olympia in homage to Zeus but was later banned in 393 A.D. by the Christian Roman emperor Theodosius. It was not until the 1896 when the first “modern” Olympics was held again in Athens with 280 participants from 13 nations and was later held in different host countries every four years. The last one being held in Sochi, Russia in 2014.

The SEA games or what was known back in 1958 as the Southeast Asian Peninsula (SEAP) games came as an offshoot of the Asian Games in Japan when then Vice-President of the Thailand Olympic Committee Luang Sukhum Nayaoradit conceptualised an event that would help promote cooperation, understanding and relations among Southeast Asian countries.

I had once qualified for the Youth SEA games for Swimming when I was twelve after having won 2 Silvers (Butterfly and Freestyle) and 1 Gold (Breaststroke) at a local cup. Before then I had been standing on podiums on numerous sprint events as well as being part of the La Salle swim team for years. What ensued after qualifying however were days upon days of swimming 4 kilometres per day! My eyes were bloodshot from chlorine and I found myself absolutely sick of smelling the pool. I eventually quit halfway in training and never made it to the games but the experience is something that I will take with me for the rest of my life! It takes a lot of grit; and apparently I had not enough of it in that point in my life. But because of that, I do know for sure what it takes. It requires dedication, focus, financial and family support. Some of which I did not have at the time. The bottomline is that winning and competing takes commitment from all sides of the game.

But with all the grandness and scale of these events, what do all of these games mean to us at an individual scale? What do these games have to do with our own games in life? Well, it seems like science say the games we watch have a direct impact on us and tell us a lot about ourselves and our needs.

In a scientific study, it was found that watching a game increases endocrine activity such as the production of testosterone, adrenaline and cortisol as much as actually being in a game. Some sports psychologist are still trying to get to the root of crowd behaviour which sometimes lead to riots in football games. Truly there is more about sports than we take in for amusement. In 1994, Brazil won the World-Cup and whilst in New York back then, The City was taken aback when Brazilians rallied to the streets in an ad-hoc parade around town. New Yorkers who were new to Football (Soccer) were shocked to know what all the fuzz was about.

Sports and Games promoters play upon our primal and emotional needs with our champions, as we attribute the best of what we could be upon our athletes. Some of the narratives that we often play are as extreme as Good vs. Evil as we saw in the Pacquiao and Mayweather fight, to a battle between East and West. With the SEA games it is a friendly and fair battle among our ASEAN nations. The good thing is that the SEA games contextualises its events to accommodate games we usually play that are not found in the regular Olympics. This includes Muay, Silat and Arnis.

In the Philippines, the nation came to a grinding halt as the entire nation was glued to the screen in watching what supposedly was to be the “Fight of the Century” between the Philippines’ National Fist Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather! While the event was somewhat of a disappointment, I had to reflect upon the reason why a game such as this, seemed all too important to all of us that we almost declared the day to be an official holiday. Here are some of the reasons I found within my quest for understanding:

  • National Pride: Games of this scale (international in magnitude) tend to inspire nationalist sentiments as our athletes carry the flag for our nation. In these moments we are able to compete on a level playing field in equal footing with some of our neighbours who at times might seem to have been better endowed.
  • Self Projection: Watching a sport seems to have a way of engaging its audience into projecting themselves upon the athlete. In some cases especially in a close match such as boxing or fencing, we might even find ourselves swinging at an invisible opponent in a sports equivalent to the air guitar. We project some of our own challenges upon these athletes in a brief moment escape. In the moments where they win or lose, we also feel their sentiments in real time.
  • Personification of Values: For the most part athletes are role-models. They personify qualities that we want to see from ourselves. They reflect an improved version of ourselves with admirable virtues such as: Courage, Dedication, Focus, Endurance and Performance.

The takeaway in all of these is perhaps the character we all need to incorporate from the athletes and the process of sports itself. We need to ensure an atmosphere of fairness, sports mindedness and grit and take them into our own games of life. We all have our fields and battles but we also need to have the heart of a real champion to win in the game of life.