CRUCIAL ROLES: Sports in which Malaysia excel in will be included to boost nation's chances to be champsSQUASH, lawn bowls, track cycling and a few other sports will return in a big way when Malaysia hosts the 2017 Sea Games with a target of emerging overall champions for just the second time in the series.
The National Sports Council (NSC), in consultation with the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM), believe sports in which Malaysians have traditionally dominated but excluded from the Sea Games in recent times have a crucial role to play in 2017.
Squash has been absent from the Games since 2007 but will return in 2015 when Singapore become hosts with two gold medals on offer though it is in 2017 when the sport will go big with up to seven gold medals up for grabs.
Other sports left out by this year's hosts Myanmar like water skiing, synchronised swimming, gymnastics, bowling and fencing will return in Singapore and have an expanded role two years later.
Along with track cycling, these sports contributed 25 gold medals to Malaysia's tally of 58 in Indonesia two years ago and will have a major say in whether Malaysia will finish top of the overall medal tally for the first time since 2001.
Obscure sports in Myanmar this year like chinlone, kempo, traditional boat race and vovinam will be kept out, along with wrestling in which Malaysia have no presence, while sepak takraw will see a reduction in events to prevent Thailand, Malaysia's main threat to overall supremacy, from padding their gold medal tally.
"The selection of events will be consistent with the Olympics and play to our strengths," said NSC director-general Datuk Seri Zolkples Embong in Bukit Jalil yesterday.
"If you take sepak takraw and chinlone, which together offer 18 gold medals, I think that is too much. When we become hosts, four events (the men's and women's regu and team) will be enough.
"For squash, we can have it like badminton and table tennis with seven events. Track cycling can go to its maximum and we also want synchronised swimming and water skiing back."
Squash last featured at the 2007 Games in Bangkok where only the men's event was held with Elvinn Keo beating Nafzahizam Adnan in an all-Malaysian final.
That was also the last time lawn bowls was held when Malaysia won five of six events.
The Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia (SRAM) welcomed the plan to hold seven events in 2017 with doubles and team events being introduced.
But SRAM general manager and honorary secretary Christopher Brodie said convincing other countries to compete in a sport where Malaysia is unrivalled regionally will be a challenge.
"To have squash in the Games we need participation from five countries, including the hosts.
Malaysia and Singapore, I believe, are confirmed and we need to convince Thailand, Indonesia and Brunei to send players," said Brodie in Bukit Jalil yesterday.
In a gesture of sportsmanship, Brodie said SRAM will consider sending just the junior players to Singapore in 2015 and use back-up squad players in 2017 though the possibility of seven-time world champion Nicol David competing on home soil, when she would be 34, has not been ruled out.