The History of the Borneo Games

I was asked to research on the history of the Borneo Games by Brunei Times. The 3rd Borneo Games is currently on at various venues throughout Brunei at the moment. I found out many things including the fact that one of my uncles was the first Brunei Borneo Games athletes. My article was published yesterday on Brunei Times:-

Remember these names? Sinin Metali, Aloysius Sibidol, Zainab Kadir, Junaidi Hamdan, George Chong, Abdullah Mustafa, Sanah Tamit, Pengiran Md Zain, Katherine Teo and Marina Metali? If these names do not jog your memory, then what about Latif Olen, Kuda Dita or Dilbaugh Sinkler?

Bruneians in the 1950s and 1960s interested in sports would remember that these were Brunei’s and some of our neighbouring states’ best athletes competing in the Borneo Games. Borneo Games was the most prestigious athletics competition that we had at that time.

Not many people remembered the first few Borneo Games nor did people remember the first Brunei athlete who took part in the first Borneo Games. Yet, our athletes competed very well. Sinin Metali when he was in the army, training in Negeri Sembilan in 1961 bested the Malaysian soldiers by winning the Malaysian Army’s mile run. Sibidol held world veteran records in his age group for discus and javelin throwing.

The very first Borneo Games was held at Seria Recreation Club (SRC) in 1954. The three British Borneo states, Brunei Darussalam, Sarawak and North Borneo took part in that first game. The Games was sponsored by Brunei Shell Petroleum Company. Practically every single one of the ‘Brunei’ athletes was BSP employees but only one was a true Bruneian.

Ahmad Kahar was the sole Bruneian in the entire ‘Brunei’ team. The other team members were expatriates. It was not surprising as it was very difficult for other athletes from around Brunei to come to Seria to practice and compete. There were no connecting bridges then and vehicles had to use the beach and a ferry just to get from Belait District over to Tutong.

According to Ahmad Kahar, Brunei did very well, topping the first three Borneo Games in 1954, 1955 (held in North Borneo) and 1956 (held in Sarawak). Ahmad Kahar won gold medals in the first few games. His specialties were in the 880 yards, 1,760 yards and 440 yards 4x4 relay. The Brunei quartet comprising of Ahmad Kahar, RJ Clark, TC Matthews and Scott was well known among the athletes.

He remembered that for the second Borneo Games in North Borneo, the team went to Kota Kinabalu on board the steamer MV Bolkiah. The athletes were put up at the Kapayan Police Barracks. By then Brunei had two local athletes but the rest were still expatriates. His Royal Highness Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien himself dropped in on the team when they were in North Borneo.

In the third Borneo Games, the Brunei team once again went on the steamer MV Bolkiah and stayed at a hotel in Kuching before winning the Games for the third time running. By then there were a few Brunei athletes in the contingent.

By 1957, the Brunei team was no longer managed by the Shell Company. It was now managed by the Brunei Amateur Athletics Association. Unfortunately without the expatriates, the local athletes could not compete against the athletes from Sabah and Sarawak and has never won the games since.

Sinin Metali (real name Sinin Tuba) recalled that the 1957 Borneo Games was not held at SRC but at the Arena, a field near Seria Town. He also recalled that the subsequent Games in Sabah was held at Tanjung Aru and in Sarawak at Tanjung Lintang. The ship taking the Brunei team was MV Rajawali instead of MV Bolkiah. He remembered the grass covered tracks compared to the nicely rubber covered tracks of today. The spikes in their shoes were long compared to today’s short spikes.

Brunei Darussalam was a British protectorate at that time. North Borneo was a British protectorate before the Second World War but was a crown colony of the United Kingdom from 1946 to 1963 and was subsequently renamed Sabah when it joined Malaysia in 1963. Sarawak too after the Second World War was a crown colony until 1963. It too joined Malaysia.

By the 1960s, the annual event of the 1950s became a biennial event but still held over the weekend.


[Brunei Contingent to the 1965 Borneo Games in Kuching]

Many sports were competed by the three Borneo states including Football, Badminton, Hockey and, Basketball. There were several sports meets that involved Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei such as the Borneo Cup, which is for football and another is for hockey, but the Borneo Games was purely on athletics.

The Games, however, finally lost momentum in the mid 1970s due to lack of participation from Brunei often resulting in Sabah and Sarawak battling it out for the champions’ trophy. According to the Daily Express of Sabah, the last Borneo Games overall champions were Sabah when the meet was hosted by Sarawak in 1984 and the Borneo Games went into abeyance after that.

However, according to Haji Abdul Razak Bongsu who was then the Secretary of the Brunei Amateur Athletics Association, the Borneo Games was resurrected as the short lived Merdeka Games. Brunei Darussalam soon after its independence invited all six ASEAN countries to send representatives to the games. The first games comprising of 10 sporting events took place in March 1985. The second and final games took place in March 1990.

Despite the demise of the Borneo Games series, some games continued to be organised by the sports associations of particular games.

The current series of the Borneo Games was revived in 2005 with Sabah being the first host.

The states that took part in the inaugural Borneo Games in 2005 were Brunei, Sabah, Sarawak, Labuan (ceded by Sabah to be a federal state in 1984) and Kedah, host of the Malaysian Games, SUKMA XI the following year. The games were held from 17th to 21st December 2005.

A new logo was agreed made up of four multicoloured interconnecting circles and a torch at the top. The four colours, yellow, red, blue and green represented the colours of the four states.

The 2005 Borneo Games included badminton, men’s football (under 23), women’s football, top spinning, hockey, athletics, rugby, sepak takraw, tennis, tenpin bowling and boxing. Brunei won 7 golds, 11 silvers and 17 bronzes and finished third in the five state games.

In 2007, the Second Borneo Games with the theme of ‘The Spirit of Borneo’ from 27th November to 1st December took place in Sarawak. Sabah, Labuan, Sarawak and Brunei with the addition of the Borneo Provinces of Indonesia - East Kalimantan and West Kalimantan and Terengganu, the 2008 host of SUKMA XII took part. Brunei won 9 golds, 8 silvers and 16 bronzes.

The Third Borneo Games will be hosted by Brunei from 29 November to 6 December 2009.

The Games will consist of 12 sports of which four are compulsory; athletics, hockey, football and sepak takraw. Seven are optional, namely badminton, billiards, fencing, futsal, lawn bowling, pencak silat and tennis. In addition, gasing (top spinning) will also be contested under the ‘traditional sports’ category.

The 2009 Borneo Games will be contested by Brunei, East Kalimantan, Labuan, Melaka (the host of 2010 SUKMA XIII), North Kalimantan, Sabah, Sarawak, South Kalimantan and West Kalimantan.

Now, truly the Borneo Games will be contested by all the Borneo states. It has come a long way since 1954.

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PS. I wrote this article about 3 weeks before the Borneo Games started. I thought it will be published much earlier, but Brunei Times decided to hold it and publish it when Borneo Games had started. By then, it was confirmed that 3 events had been dropped and that 2 states did not take part, so my last 3 paragraphs were no longer accurate including the last paragraph. We have to wait for another Borneo Games to get everyone in Borneo to participate.

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