WHAT was expected to be a muted affair turned out to be one jam-packed with hundreds of spectators struggling to get a view of the ice hockey teams playing for the gold, silver and bronze medal in the 29th SEA Games finals last night.
No one had predicted ice hockey, in its debut at the regional sports event, would be able to draw the crowds since the Games started last week. But it did.
“This is crazy!” Muhammad Hafiz, 26, who has been playing for the Malaysian squad for about five years told Asian Correspondent.
“We thought only one or two hundred people would turn up. This is very overwhelming,” said Hafiz who had to withdraw from playing due to an injury before the Games started.
Had organisers seen this coming, more seats could have been prepared in the arena. After all, when SEA Games organisers announced three games usually reserved for countries with colder climates – ice hockey, short-track speed skating and figure skating – will be included in this year’s line-up, it raised eyebrows as countries in the bloc do not have any natural snow.
And in Malaysia, it is sports like badminton, football and field hockey, where the country champs, either regionally or globally, that usually captivate the nation’s attention.
But the atmosphere at the newly built US$7 million rink at Empire City last night proved otherwise.
Malaysia’s Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin posted this Insta-story of the situation yesterday:
Some Malaysians even came as early as 4pm on a workday to watch the battle for gold between the Philippines and Thailand, which was delayed for two hours. The Philippines team eventually won after a tight match which ended 5-4.
But it was for the match between traditional rival countries – Malaysia and Singapore – that the venue started overflowing with curious spectators, extended families of players and veteran sports fanatics.
One portion of the crowd was even heard singing songs by Ultras Malaya, a local group known for its ultra-fanatical support of Malaysia’s football team.
Fresh graduate Muhammad Nurayzat Johari, 26, said the crowd had been steadily growing in the build-up to last night’s finals. This is the first time Nurayzat gets to watch the sport live, instead of just on TV and YouTube, and was anxious to see Malaysia beat its neighbour.
“The violence, the action … It’s really interesting.”