SEA Games: Curtain falls on troubled Games

JAKARTA, Nov 22, 2011 (AFP) - A mesmerising closing ceremony for the Southeast Asian Games Tuesday was unable to lift the pall cast over competition by the deaths of two fans in a stampede at the headline football final.

Fireworks and dancers lit up the centrepiece stadium in Palembang, which co-hosted the Games, but there was a sombre undertone to the event after the stampede that proceeded Indonesia's clash with Malaysia for football gold.

AFP - Rita Subowo, chairwoman of Indonesia's SEA GAMES organising committee (Inasoc) hands over the SEAGAMES federation flag to the Myanmar mission during the closing ceremony of the 26th Southeast Asian Games in Palembang

Two victims died in the crush before the Monday night match in Jakarta when stadium gates were opened and the crowd surged to get in, Jakarta police told AFP, adding that a boy taken to hospital had slipped into a coma.

Games organisers Inasoc had warned of potential flashpoints ahead of the highly-anticipated final -- which defending champions Malaysia won 4-3 on penalties after the teams were deadlocked at 1-1 after extra time.

The tragedy took the gloss off a glittering Games for the hosts, who collected 182 golds out of the 554 available in a bulging total medal haul of 476 overall.

It meant Indonesia topped the Games medals charts for the first time since 1997 -- when they last hosted the competition -- and left 2009 winners Thailand trailing on 109 golds, with Vietnam further back on 96.

The biennial event saw athletes from 11 nations compete for hundreds of medals, regional bragging rights and a rare chance to shine on the international stage.

Indonesian athletes scored memorable victories in many of the headline track and field events, while also cleaning up in niche sports such as paragliding, roller skating and traditional Indonesian martial art pencak silat.

The hosts also swept the drama-filled badminton competition, while their under-23 football team stirred the passions of the nation with its run to the final.

But the Games struggled to shake off nagging organisational problems, including a delay in building venues and a lack of accommodation and transport in the South Sumatran city of Palembang.

The troubles prompted Myanmar's chef-de-mission to vow his nation will do a "better job" when they host the next Games in 2013.

There was also repeated criticism of home fans for barracking visiting teams -- in particular Malaysia's athletes throughout the 11-days of competition.

"There must be some respect," Malaysia's chef-de-mission Datuk Naim Mohamad told AFP.

"That's been missing from the fans on many occasions. Booing national anthems is the wrong behaviour for a Games that should be about regional solidarity."

Games' organisers Inasoc defended the competition saying they overcame early problems caused by alleged corruption from within the government to host a solid competition.

"It was good Games, a lot of good things happened too," said Rita Subowo Inasoc chairwoman. "I think the athletes have enjoyed the competition. We had problems but I think we fixed them pretty quickly."

Subowo joined the chorus of calls for fewer minor sports -- such as paragliding and bridge -- in the next edition, saying they divert resources and attention from Olympic disciplines.

The gold most craved by the home fans was in the headline under-23 football, but instead they endured heartbreak as Malaysia's captain Baddrol Bakhtiar scored the winning penalty, following two missed spot-kicks by Indonesia.

The Malaysian side were hailed heroes for their gutsy showing in the incident-packed final, with the country's prime minister tweeting his congratulations shortly after the game.

Elsewhere, Singapore's swimmers again dominated the pool, repeating their strong showing in the 2009 Games in Laos, while Thailand stormed to 14 athletics golds and Vietnam cleaned up in the gymnastics.

But other competing nations were left to digest a disastrous showing. The Philippines stumbled badly taking a paltry 36 golds, their worst showing for a decade.

Only tiny Brunei left the biennial Games without a gold medal.

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