The 29th edition of the South East Asian Games, or SEA Games, got underway in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday. The event has brought together over 4,600 athletes from 11 countries in the region to compete for medals across 38 sports until 30th August.
It is the biggest multi-sport event taking place in Malaysia since the Commonwealth Games in 1998 and is an opportunity for the host nation to showcase its capabilities. Earlier this year at the SportAccord Convention in Aarhus, as the country was entering the final stages of preparations for the SEA Games, SportsPro met with Malaysia Major Events general manager Tony Nagamaiah about the event’s place within a wider national hosting strategy that aims to add to existing global staples like the MotoGP race at Sepang and a range of cultural festivals.
Could you introduce Malaysia Major Events and explain what your role is?
Malaysia Major Events [MME] was formed six years ago under the banner of the entry point project for Malaysia. We wanted to elevate Malaysia into a developed country by 2020 and the government and the prime minister saw that MME would be a key driver, or an enabler, to turn the country into a developed nation.
We saw what other countries did, including Victorian Major Events and Event Scotland, and we learned from their experiences on how they managed to develop. Melbourne, for example, was nothing 15 years ago, and in today’s world is one of the most developed cities in the world, and that was largely because of major events. Scotland is a country where it is basically winter 80 per cent of the time, so we looked at how they use events that maximise their winter space and bring tourism into the country.
So we learned from their examples and came up with a whole new government agency called Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau. Under this convention bureau there are two different business models: one is business events, and another one is major events which focus on arts, lifestyle, sports and entertainment.
Every year we have to deliver a certain number of tourists coming into Malaysia for events, and also bring in positive significant impact for the country through tourism expenditure, increasing the length of stay, destination marketing, building a legacy, developing the community and producing a positive social impact. All this was achieved within the first few years of our inception, and from there we took off. Now we bring major events to the country, we develop home-grown events with our local partners and promote it internationally, specifically for sports tourism.
Malaysia Major Events is using events like the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur to bring people into the country and promote tourism
So what’s the strategy? What kind of level of event are you looking to bring in?
We are not looking at the Olympics, the Fifa World Cup and all those big events. We are looking at events which have mass participation, athlete-based participation – that have somewhere between 800 to 1,000 athletes. For example, we are looking at darts, bodybuilding, jujitsu, sambo, kickboxing, muay thai. These are events which are relatively on the lower side of the cost sector, but bring some high returns.
If we have 800 to 1,000 athletes, and each of them travel with one or two people, then at any one time we have 2,000 or 3,000 people coming to the country. And it’s all about tourism.
Another thing is mass participation sports such as duathlons, triathlons, marathons and mass cycling events. These are other events that we look at. Then you have your anchor events which are MotoGP and Formula One. These events will always be in our calendar because they showcase the country on a larger scale and bring in more tourists.
Do you have a budget to balance between the events?
Yes, we have a budget that is given to us by the Ministry of Finance, which is allocated on a yearly basis. We use that budget to provide grants to event organisers, associations and promoters. We also provide non-financial support, by securing local sponsorship and providing them with government-owned venues to see whether we can cater to them. So we link them to the right people for sponsorship, and to the right people in the government to get approvals and licenses. We also help with visa issues and on-site support if it’s necessary.
What is your role in the SEA Games?
What we fundamentally do for the SEA Games is promote, because our role is fundamentally to promote whatever events are planned in the country. The Ministry of Sport’s role is to develop athletes and develop sports in the country - they don’t get involved with the sports tourism side of things. Our role is to promote this event internationally, so wherever we go we tell people that this is happening in Malaysia and encourage them to come and experience it.
This year is our 68th year of independence, so the SEA Games closing ceremony will be on 30th August which is also our independence day.
Over 4,600 athletes from 11 countries are competing at the SEA Games in 38 sports, including sepak takraw
How would you rate the scale of the SEA Games as opposed to other events that you host?
In the region it’s probably the biggest, because we get ten countries participating. A lot of other international federations are also involved in the 26 different disciplines within the SEA Games - I know for a fact that up to 40 international federation presidents will attend this event, along with sports leaders and sports ministers from within the region. So it’s also a meeting point to discuss where sport is going to move in south-east Asia over the next couple of years.
Is this the biggest event in Kuala Lumpur since the Commonwealth Games?
We also hosted the IOC meeting [the 128th International Olympic Committee Session was held there in July 2015]. We did other big events like the Table Tennis World Championship, MotoGP and Formula One races, and the FIM Asian Supermoto Championship, but this will be one of the key ones as well.
What’s your relationship with the organising committee of the SEA Games?
We come in when it comes to the promotion of the SEA Games. By promoting the Games I don’t mean promoting the Games to federations, but promoting the Games for tourists to come and visit.
What’s the potential for hosts like Malaysia?
Our key objective is to create business for the hotels, airlines, taxi drivers, production guys, promoters, etc. We want to create an ecosystem based on major events. Bringing in a one-off major event will not work. We need to create a sustainable flow of events.
Any events that we pitch for, we commit a minimum of three years. For the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour event we committed for three years. For the Water Ski World Championship we started with the Asia-Pacific edition, then we did the juniors and now we are moving onto the world event. So there have to be stages to what we do. We don’t want to get into a single-year commitment, because otherwise you don’t build on that legacy.
We need to create a continuous building of an ecosystem around major events so we can move to the next level. If I’m a business person and I am going to open a hotel for example, I’m going to make sure that the hotel is always fully booked. If I’m going to invest in sports technology, I’m going to make sure that there are enough sporting events to accommodate this. We are here to give them this opportunity.