Those of us from Southeast Asia are quite familiar with the SEA Games currently held in Vietnam. But I'm not sure how many of you out there know something about these Games, which include badminton as one of the more popular sports. Initially known as the Southeast Asian Peninsular Games, the 22nd SEA Games as is now called, had a 44-year history and was first held in Thailand in 1959 with only 6 countries and 600-odd athletes participating in 12 sports which offered 32 gold medals. Today, more than 3,700 athletes from 11 countries are fighting for 442 golds in 32 sports. East Timor or Timor Leste, which recently gained independence from Indonesia, is the latest member. Vietnam was visibly absent from the initial Games as it was engaged in the infamous Vietnam War and was not admitted as a member. After decades of war and isolation, Vietnam joined the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1989 when it won only 3 gold medals. By the last Games in KL again in 2001 (the Games are held every 2 years), Vietnam amassed 33 golds and proved that it is a strong sporting country. Its target as host nation is at least 100 golds. But I'm sure none of these will come from badminton as in the past, for the kingpins in this sport are world-class nations like Indonesia and Malaysia, with Thailand and Singapore hoping for a medal. However, Vietnam may yet be able to win another "shuttlecock" game which it has the prerogative to introduce as the host country. Here instead of using the racket to hit the bird you use your legs and maybe your head, but certainly not your hands. This is a rather indigenous sport and may not have been played in all the other participating countries. I have not actually seen how they play this game officially, but as a boy, I used to kick around with my peers a home-made shuttlecock made of 3 hen or duck feathers stuck on to about 3 or more pieces of rubber tyre tube sheets (sometimes cut papers) of about 2 inches in diameter to form the base. I'm sure some of our friends from SE Asia must have encountered this game which is called "Capteh" by the Vietnames or "Cakteh" (?) by the Malays. The idea is not to let the shuttlecock drop onto the ground but to continue to kick it either to yourself or your team mates and trying to avoid any interception by your opponents. I suspect that the official rules that the Vietnamese adopt may come close to those for another game familiar to this part of the world and also included in the SEA Games: "Sepak Takraw" - Kicking the rattan ball. Coincidentally the court measurements are identical to those for badminton with some modifications. But three players form a team and they can use flying kicks and their heads. Coming back to Vietnam, it was reported that the new sporting and supporting facilities like those for the TV stations of the various participating countries, which are making daily broadcasts to their home countries, are in excellent condition with few hiccups. Patronage of the daily sporting events are phenomenal despite the fact that they are held in different locations! People support is definitely apparent and this marks a tremendous change from the long days when Vietnam was divided into North (Communists) and South (Democrats) and torned by the ravages of war. Today's Vietnam, although still under military rule, has allowed capitalism and the entrepreneurship of its people to slowly emerge. The grand showing at the Games opening at the brand-new My Dinh National Stadium, before a capacity crowd of more than 40,000 was a "massive, musical extravaganza featuring 4,000 singers and dancers, with the country's top 22 singers leading the theme song "For The World Of Tomorrow", and apparently had surpassed all the other Games opening before this. Some reported that such grandeur, such greatness were not far from those seen at the Olympics or the World Cup Finals! I hope Vietnam can continue to be a responsible and contributing member of ASEAN and open up more opportunities for its people. Indeed, Vietnam has improved on its economic development as the current Games have demonstrated. With more economic success, hopefully the Vietnamese government will allow more liberties to its people so that the region can prosper together. Southeast Asia is touted by some economists to be the next region that will see the highest growth rate in the world. However, in badminton, Vietnam will have no chance to earn a medal, at least not for now. Contenders for the men's gold team event have to be between long-time rivals Indonesia and Malaysia. Thailand may have a chance of getting the bronze in the men's team event and Singapore, maybe a silver or at least a bronze for the ladies' event. The individual gold medals will still be a hard fight between Malaysia and Indonesia for the men. Whether Wong Choon Hann can defeat Sony in the singles is left to be seen. Singapore's Ronald Susilo may spring a surprise. The ladies individual events are more even with all these four better known countries having a chance at the gold, silver and bronze, depending on their form on the day. But I think it is hard to take the gold away from Vietnam for being such a fantastic host and the "shuttlecock kicking" gold should rightly go to them for the reward. Even communist China and Russia have changed and allowed capitalism to help raise the livelihood and prosperity of their people. I guess Vietnam has no other alternative but to follow or be left behind.