The much-anticipated SEA Games 2017 is finally here. While it is a great time for Malaysia to truly shine and promote the country to the world, especially after the slew of bad PR it had gotten in the recent years, the road to recovery has been bumpy so far.
It all started when Singapore swimmer Joseph Schooling was misquoted to be taking jibes at Malaysia for wanting to teach Malaysians “a thing or two” at the games. However, this was soon overshadowed by the news of the Indonesian flag, in the official souvenir book for the opening of Kuala Lumpur SEA Games 2017, being printed wrongly.Â In the souvenir guidebook, the Indonesian flag appears upside down and looked very much like the Polish flag instead.
In response to this incident, the SEA Games official organiser quickly issued an apology saying: “We would like to sincerely apologise to the people of Indonesia for the inadvertent error of publishing the wrong flag for Indonesia.” It added, “We very much regret the mistake and trust the strong bond between the two countries will further strengthen in the spirit of the SEA Games.”
Nonetheless, with the games being of such high profile, regional and global media outlets spread word of flaw in a matter of hours. The news was reported on Channel NewsAsia, The Straits Times, Reuters, ABCNews, Times of India and many other news outlets.
This led to Malaysian Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, on Saturday, apologising to his Indonesian counterpart ImamÂ Nahrawi, both on Twitter and in person.Â In Jakarta, Indonesian President Joko Widodo also told media that while the incident concerned national pride, all parties should refrain from exaggerating the issue and blowing it out of proportion, according to online media Detik.com.
However netizen sentiments have been harder to control with many taking their discontent to Twitter, and starting the hashtag #ShameOnYouMalaysia.
Meanwhile PR and branding players such as Joseph Barratt, managing director ofÂ Mutant Communications agreed that the SEA Games could be a great opportunity for Malaysia to build greater cross-cultural and national understanding across the region. However, it is also a “shame something like this detracts” from all the positive exposure the nation could have gathered.
“It looks like a sloppy mistake that reflects poorly on Malaysia. But that’s the extent of it – it is a mistake,” he said, adding that this was clearly not a deliberate effort to disparage Indonesia.
“[The Malaysian authorities] clearly didn’t have the right checks and balances in place, and in this instance, it translated into a minor diplomatic incident,” BarrattÂ added.
Nick Foley, president for Southeast Asia Pacific and Japan for Landor said this latest blunder signals an “unfortunate mistake” that raises questions on Malaysiaâ€™s ability to smoothly organise a global event.
“If this proves to be a one-off error, then the likelihood is the public will focus more on the event itself and less about whatâ€™s occurring off the field,” he said.
Foley said overall, the SEA Games is still very much in its infancy.
“Whilst theyâ€™re not the Olympics, the event helps to prepare athletes to go above and beyond in their sporting ambitions. The key difference between the SEA Games and the Commonwealth Games is reputation and legacy. The SEA Games is still very much in its infancy.”