From flags to food poisoning: Ranking the six biggest PR blunders of the SEA Games
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From flags to food poisoning: Ranking the six biggest PR blunders of the SEA Games

MALAYSIANS have been basking in the glow of their team’s performance at the SEA Games – with Monday declared a public holiday in lieu of the 145 gold medals won by the host nation.

The Games, though, were not without controversy, with some of the organisation being criticised, and netizens in some countries claiming Malaysia’s high medal tally was not exclusively down to their sporting prowess.

With the dust having settled on the 29th SEA Games, and the torch now handed to Philippines ahead of the 30th Games in 2019, we take a look at six of the most prominent controversies to emerge during Kuala Lumpur 2017.

SEE ALSO: SEA Games: Malaysia profit from home comforts to win 145 golds – but history shows staying at the top will not be easy

6) All was not well on the buses

Before competition had really got going, the bus driver ferrying the Myanmar’s women’s football team to and from their game against Malaysia was arrested on suspicion of stealing a watch belonging to a Malaysian official – and not having a driving licence.

This delayed the Myanmar players’ return to their hotel after a 5-0 victory.

The Games’ bad fortune with buses continued when two coaches carrying squad athletes and officials from their hotel to the venue collided with each other.

Two Myanmar players had to withdraw through the injuries they suffered, and that day’s competition was delayed until all affected athletes had cleared medical tests.


A copy of the SEA Games guidebook shows a misprinted Indonesian flag. Source: Reuters/Edgar Su

5) Indonesia flagged up an early problem

The opening ceremony had not even taken place when a diplomatic storm was caused by the Indonesian flag being printed upside-down in the souvenir guidebook for the Games.

The controversy prompted Indonesian President Joko Widodo to tell reporters in Jakarta the incident concerned “national pride”.

Shortly after, the hashtag #shameonyoumalaysia became the most popular hashtag on Twitter on August 20.

Malaysia apologised and reprinted the guidebooks – but still Indonesian hackers hacked Malaysian websites in response to the blunder, posting: “Bendera Negaraku Bukanlah Mainan” (Our country’s flag is not a toy).

4) Food poisoning at the Malaysian contingent’s official hotel

Given the nature of some of the conspiracy theories that were flying around during the Games, it was perhaps ironic that, if a food poisoning outbreak had to affect any nation’s athletes, it was Malaysia who were impacted.

Sixteen Malaysian athletes, all of whom were staying at the contingent Renaissance Kuala Lumpur hotel, were struck down with food poisoning four days into the Games.

One athlete required hospital treatment while another – a swimmer – was forced to miss his event as a result of his sickness.


Malaysia’s contingent arrive at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium for the opening ceremony of the SEA Games. Source: Reuters/Lai Seng Sin

3) Malaysian fans’ offensive ‘Singapore dogs’ chant soured the football tournament

Organisers had to call for Malaysian football fans to be civil and control their behaviour, and not undermine the “strong spirit of togetherness and sportsmanship” at the Games.

The request was prompted after footage circulated of some Malaysian supporters chanting “kami turun ke Shah Alam, satu jiwa sokong Malaysia, Singapore anjing dibunuh saja” (“we come to Shah Alam, united in supporting Malaysia, Singapore dogs should only be killed”) during the teams’ clash on August 16.

Further negative headlines were generated when two Myanmar supporters were allegedly assaulted by a group of unidentified assailants after the match between Myanmar and Malaysia on August 21.

2) Ticketing fiasco for the men’s football final

It was bad enough when the Myanmar-Laos group match at UiTM Stadium was declared a sell-out, meaning some Myanmar fans had to support their team from outside the stadium despite many empty seats being available inside.

But the ticketing system put in place for the final between Malaysia and Thailand at Shah Alam Stadium made the Myanmar-Laos game look like an organisational triumph.

Malaysia’s run to the final increased the interest in the final – but no tickets were made available online, meaning all tickets had to be purchased from the stadium.

Only two ticket booths were open for sales, which caused chaos and forced the Federal Reserve Unit and police to be deployed to the area to disperse the crowd.

Malaysian Minister of Youth & Sports, Khairy Jamaluddin, said the online payment provider could not guarantee a stable sales process due to the volume of interest.

Many Malaysian ‘ultras’ opted to stay away from the final as a result of the chaotic organisation.


Goalkeeper Haziq Nadzli of Malaysia punches the ball into his own net for the only goal of the SEA Games men’s football final against Thailand. Source: Reuters/Lai Seng Sin

1) Accusations of unfair play against the victorious hosts

A popular theme among netizens was that Malaysia’s haul of 145 gold medals (compared with 62 two years earlier in Singapore) owed plenty to some favourable officiating calls.

As outlined in this earlier article, host nations always over-perform at the SEA Games, before reverting closer to their normal level two years later.

Malaysia were undeniably the top nation in Kuala Lumpur, winning more than twice as many gold medals as second-placed Thailand.

But some netizens suggested they were aided by certain calls: with the winner of the women’s 10,000 metres walk race, Elena Goh Ling Yin, accused of running.

Other events that came under scrutiny included boxer Muhamad Fuad Redzuan’s 5-0 decision over Philippines’ Carlo Paalam; the walk-out of the Indonesian women’s sepak takraw team in protest at a call awarded to Malaysia; and the score of 582 awarded to the Malaysian pair in the pencak silat men’s doubles seni contest against Indonesia.

One web user even made this conspiracy theory video alleging Malaysia had benefited from home-country decisions.