In the semi-final of the men’s standing 70-75kg pencak silat at the 31st Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games 31) in Hanoi on May 15, Mohd Al-Jufferi Jamari from Malaysia lost his chance to qualify for the final to his rival Abdul Raazaq Bin Abdul Rashid from Singapore.
When the match concluded, Jamari (in red) and Rashid hugged each other. The Malaysian martial artist raised the arm of his opponent to acknowledge his victory. In that moment of sportsmanship, the two kneeled down in “sujud syukur”, which is a gesture to express gratitude.
The SEA Games lived up to its reputation as the largest sporting event in the region, offering an array of compelling competition. Exciting and spirited contests were delivered by determined athletes who had set their sights on gold medals. The Games, however, introduced another angle of sport: one that encourages a sense of fair play, friendship, and solidarity between countries in the region.
Philippine gymnast Carlos Yulo, who clinched five golds and one silver out of seven individual events at SEA Games 31, spoke of sharing the gold medal in the men’s horizontal bar with his Vietnamese rival Dinh Phuong Thanh: “I really thought I would win silver, because the Vietnamese gymnast was very good.”
“And I thought I had to be better in order to bridge the gap with my opponents from Vietnam,” he added.
Thanh, who performed last among the eight competitors, equalled Yulo’s score of 13.867, which resulted in both gymnasts taking home the gold medal.
While a sporting contest reflects the strenuous effort of athletes and serves as further motivation, SEA Games 31 seemed to transcend such notions.
The event’s theme, “For a Stronger Southeast Asia”, is not just for show on signboards and in speeches – it was brought to life by athletes, spectators, and the staff of sporting contingents at the Games.
After competing in the men’s 10,000 metre race and winning a silver for Timor-Leste, Felisberto De Deus was embraced and congratulated by the winner, Nguyen Van Lai, from the host country, Vietnam.
The silver medallist from Timor-Leste held hands with and ran together around the My Dinh National Stadium in celebration with Lai and another Vietnamese runner, Le Van Thao, who won bronze, amid cheers from spectators.
At the medal ceremony, both Lai and Thao let De Deus have his commemorative photos taken first; a gesture demonstrating their respect for the effort of their Timor-Leste opponent and new friend.
“I’m happy to be in this beautiful country,” De Deus said during an interview with Vietnamese media. “I have been here twice, the first time for a competition in Ho Chi Minh City. This is the first time I have won a medal, so I’m really, really happy, and happy for the support. Even though I competed against Vietnamese runners, the spectators also supported me, which makes me very happy.”
“Thank you so much to the people of Vietnam. They are good people, who smile with us even though we have many difficulties,” said De Deus.
Philippine billiards legend Efren Reyes, meanwhile, competed at SEA Games 31 as the oldest athlete. He received the “rock star” treatment at the Games, according to Philippines’ sports website spin.ph.
At the age of 68, even though he had taken part at various international tournaments throughout his career, Efren was impressed by the sentiments of the Vietnamese fans.
“I didn’t expect they would have watched me play on YouTube,” he said. “They would show me their mobile phones and say ‘Here you are!’. Even the security guards asked for photos.”
Runner Dinh Thi Bich from Vietnam fell and injured herself as she attempted to quicken her pace in the women’s 800 metre event. Another runner from Singapore offered her support as she regained her feet, and she was determined to reach the finish line regardless of the pain.
Never in the history of SEA Games have there been such large crowds, of nearly 30,000, at football matches, as happened at Thien Truong Stadium in Nam Dinh province, even when the home team, Vietnam, weren’t playing.
Exciting “Mexican waves”, glittering mobile phone flashes, and ear-splitting cheers from around the ground provided an amazing backdrop to the matches, with many players stunned by the level of support in Nam Dinh.
After one game, the head coach of Laos’ U/23 team, Michael Weis, went over to the stands at Thien Truong Stadium to express his gratitude, to the hearty cheers of the fans.
“The stadiums are always crowded!”, “Vietnamese fans brought energy to all the teams and made them feel like they were playing at home,” said Thai reporter Pongpisit Intaranan.
Supporters at the stadiums like Thien Truong Stadium, played an important role in the success of SEA Games 31. The Games were brought closer to spectators, and athletes from different countries came to understand each other better.
The SEA Games is not just a regional sporting tournament, it’s also an occasion to strengthen friendship, solidarity, and cultural exchanges. Savouring every match and contest in a spirit of righteousness was a feature of SEA Games 31 and ensured its success throughout.
Sincere handshakes and thank you speeches, together with thunderous applause, blurred rivalries and geographical distances, and welcomed cordiality, fairness in sport, and solidarity between sport lovers, towards the common goal of “For a Stronger Southeast Asia”.
“It’s a race were no one lost, as we were there for each other,” Singaporean swimmer Maximillian Ang Wei said during an interview.
True to the spirit of the SEA Games, where “We win as one”, SEA Games 31 witnessed many touching stories of friendship and solidarity within the ASEAN Community.
With images of “strength”, “cohesion and unity-in-diversity”, and “shining together”, all of Southeast Asia was promoted during the SEA Games. A message was sent by the Governments and peoples of Southeast Asia regarding development and solidarity to build a strong ASEAN Community and uphold the role of the bloc in the international arena./.