For many nations in Asia, the SEA Games are second only to the AFF Championships in importance yet with hosts Malaysia this week announcing a highly questionable draw process, other countries in the tournament are right to complain.
With the draw set to take place in Kuala Lumpur, next week organisers announced recently that as the host nation Malaysia will have the 'right' to select which of the two groups that they participate in after the other nations have been allotted into theirs.
Not only does this both fly in the face of international norms and clearly favour the host nation it also makes a complete mockery of the competition and reflects poorly on those organising it.
With an odd number of teams (11) entering the tournament there are always going to be issues with how the draw is conducted but to give one nation the right to choose who they will play is nothing short of sheer lunacy and very close to collusion to ensure the success of the host.
Already the football associations of Vietnam, Laos and Indonesia have slammed the proposal and with others set to join the chorus of dissent, the only hope is that common sense prevails and the Olympic Council of Malaysia and the host organising committee (Masoc) come to their senses and remove this folly.
As things stand the host nation (Malaysia) and the defending champion (Thailand) cannot be drawn into the same group and so after the first nine nations have been put into either Group A or Group B, Malaysia will then have the choice of which of those two sections they would like to play in with the Thais joining the other side of the draw.
The other issue is the additional 'seeding' processes that have been applied that see the silver and bronze medalists from the last edition in 2015, Myanmar and Vietnam also separated as – for reasons that are less clear – are both Indonesia and Singapore as well as Cambodia and Laos.
All of that leaves only the Philippines, Timor Leste and Brunei to be arranged in a traditional draw setting and they must feel like the lonely kids not invited to the school party.
Most of the problems in the general seeding arrive with the lack of an established ranking system as the tournament is reserved for U22 players for the first time, as opposed to the recent U23 system, and there is no FIFA or AFC table that deals with that age group.
Clearly, as is tradition, those nations that finish near the bottom in the previous edition have been 'seeded' in the lower sections of the draw once again with those in the middle the past time around also separated, as are those at the top.
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The problem there is that with the tournament occurring every two years that success or lack thereof can become recurring as those at the top or bottom in one cycle can easily remain there by the very nature of the draw mechanism.
An alternate approach would be to adopt the senior FIFA rankings that has at least an element of common sense about it and is a good yardstick of success as the idea should be that at least several members of the U22 side are also full senior internationals with others on the cusp of joining them.
The second – and more logical – solution would also be to factor into the equation of previous tournaments, results in the biennial AFC U23 tournament, of which one of every two editions also serve as the Olympic qualifiers.
You then have one pot of the top six nations (including the host) and another with the remaining five with teams from each drawn into their respective groups.
On the basis of the previous AFC U23 tournament in Qatar last year that would see the six seeded nations being the hosts Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia and surprisingly Laos – who finished ahead of the Malays in their qualification for that competition but who under the current logic are much lower down the pecking order.
Even easier still would be to have a pre-qualification that ensures an even eight teams in the final competition with far less complication.
What clearly should not be allowed to occur under any situation though is that the hosts can pick and choose which nations they'd like to play against – this doesn't happen anywhere in the football world and even the notion of separating both the hosts and the defending champions is an unusual situation, to begin with.
Naturally, not only does it give that nation a significant advantage in being able to select what they view as the 'weaker' group but with the odd number of teams in the group even perhaps more crucially it ensures that they play one less match in the group stage.
With the six-team group having to play five matches in 13 days and the five-team group just the four in 11 days there is a very significant advantage to be had in terms of preparation and recovery between matches and that can absolutely make a crucial difference as the tournament progresses.
As is often the case with football in Southeast Asia there are other questions to be raised over why this issue is appearing now barely a week before the draw and who indeed was behind the decision thinking that they could 'get away with it' and in echoing the concerns of multiple nations one hopes that it is just as quickly overturned.