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INDONESIA: ASEAN’s most successful Badminton nation

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Olympic’s Gold Medalists, Badminton Men’s Doubles, Athens, 2000: Tony Gunawan and Candra Wijaya

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Arguably football is Indonesia’s most popular sport, whereas badminton the most successful and basketball popular especially among Indonesian youth. Indonesia’s badminton, likely introduced to the country by the Dutch, has enjoyed tremendous success. From the beginning of the inclusion of the sport in the Olympic Games (1992) till the last one, Indonesia has won series of gold and silver medals continuously. In 5 consecutive Olympic Games they raked in a total of 18 medals, of which 6 were Gold. But Indonesia also excelled elsewhere; it won six All England badminton titles in a row; 13 out of 24 games in the Thomas Cup (the most number of games among all participating nations); and landed the World Team Championships for Women (aka Uber Cup) 3 times. 

Other popular sports are wrestling, motor and water sports, cycling, boxing and the native Indonesian martial arts of Pencak Silat. Some experts claim that it emerged in Indonesia, peninsular Malaysia, Brunei, Southern Thailand and Singapore and was practiced in the Philippines, Cambodia, Myanmar and Viet Nam.

LAOS: Petanque par excellence

Lao people are obsessed by many sports like ASEAN member fellows. The common sports in Laos are football, volleyball, Sepak Takraw (locally known as Te Ka Tor), boxing, Petanque, shooting, and golf. Today, however, many young men are more interested in participating in various fashionable games such as billiards and snooker, badminton, cycling, tennis, table tennis and team games like basketball while others are becoming professionals in athletics, archery, judo, karate, taekwondo, weightlifting, wrestling and wushu.

For the average Laotian, however, football, boxing and Muay Lao, are easily the most admired sports in the country. Muay Lao is a martial art, a form of kickboxing similar to others in Southeast Asia, such as Thai Boxing (Muay Thai), Burmese Lethwei, Malaysian Tomoi and Cambodian Pradal Serey. Ball Toss, foremost played in tribal areas is a well-liked courtship game.

In one sport Laos, one of the smaller ASEAN countries, is doing relatively well: Petanque. The sport, which has its roots in the Provence (France) but goes as far back as Roman times, is one of the most cherished pastimes of the Laotian people. It’s easy to play by all ages and both sexes and the only sport in which Laos has made some impact on the international sage

The country was one of the three Southeast Asian countries that successfully pushed for it to be included as a sport at the Southeast Asian Games in Malaysia, 2001. The others were Cambodia and Thailand. The nation’s Petanque hero, Soulasith Kahmvongsa, at the age of 17 was chosen to represent Laos at those games and remarkably showed his country to Gold in the Doubles event. That was the first gold in 42 years Laos grossed at the SEA games. After that the popularity of Petanque got a huge boost, nationally, while in order to locate more talented players, the Laos Petanque Federation started local competitions to spot people that could make it onto the national team.

Soulasith, in the meantime, went on winning medals at other SEA Games and the Asian Petanque Championships and became one of the top 40 players in the world and Lao’s most successful sportsman.