Nay Pyi Taw — The opening ceremony of the 27th Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) was held Wednesday with Myanmar putting on a lavish spectacle of lights and pyrotechnics in an event billed as a coming-out party for the former pariah state.
Fireworks and a dramatic lights show were featured in the ceremony held in the 30,000-seat Wunna Theikdi stadium in the nation’s capital of Nay Pyi Taw.
It is the first time in over four decades that Myanmar has hosted the Games, and is widely viewed as a landmark in its emergence from half a century of hardline military rule.
The SEA Games will last 22 days, and features many of the same sports as the Olympics, in addition to traditional sports like chinlone.
During the opening ceremony, domestic pop stars and a mass of dancers entertained the crowd, which chanted “Myanmar, Myanmar!” when President Thein Sein entered the stadium accompanied by fireworks.
A bare-chested warrior formally opened the Games by firing a blazing arrow to light a symbolic flame in a large cauldron high in the stadium.
China helped Myanmar host the Games by offering nearly $33 million in technical assistance, and also by training 200 of Myanmar’s athletes and sending two dozen sports coaches to improve their level of play, said presidential spokesman Ye Htut, according to reports.
The sports competition has already started, and even finished in some events, including the Myanmar cane-ball game of chinlone, which saw the hosts win in six categories of the event, giving them an early lead in medals with 18 golds and 36 total medals. Vietnam is currently second with 10 golds and 22 total.
The bulk of the competition, though, begins on Thursday and runs until the closing ceremony on December 22.