Home to around 600 million people, surging economies and a massive sporting fanbase, the group of nations stretching from Myanmar to Indonesia – and including Thailand – ought to be catching the eye at the world’s greatest sporting event.
Instead, there are few title contenders making the trip to London, as enduring poverty, threadbare facilities, skewed funding and a focus on non-Olympic sports strangle the pipeline of talent.
There are some bright spots: Malaysia boasts the world’s second ranked badminton player, Lee Chong-Wei, while Indonesia will look to maintain its record of a gold for its shuttlers at every Games since 1992.
Thailand offers a smattering of weightlifters; the Philippines, whose vaunted boxers are mainly chasing professional riches, has its hopes pinned to its shooters; and Singapore will send some strong swimmers and 2008 team table tennis silver medallist Feng Tianwei.
Yet among the 11 nations who contest the regional showpiece Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, there are no realistic medal prospects in the headline track and field events.
The statistics make grim reading – Southeast Asian nations harvested just a dozen medals combined in Beijing four years ago.
It was a paltry return given the region’s size, put further into context by the 13 podium places claimed by sporting minnow Kazakhstan.
“The risk is that sport in our region collapses,” warns Santiparb Tejavanija, an advisor to the Olympic Council of Asia.
Under-investment results in a lack of facilities, financing and top-level coaching, and short-changes athletes and the patriotic millions they represent, explains Santiparb.
But the bigger picture, according to Greg Wilson, an Australian advising the Indonesian Olympic Committee (KOI), is that a lack of ambition by poorly run sporting bodies means any funding goes to regional, not global, competition.
Others lament a preoccupation with traditional sports which are virtually unknown outside the region, such as sepak takraw. Bad healthcare and diet, high rates of smoking and the fact many people hold down several jobs preclude mass participation in sport, draining the pool of available talent.
However, the outlook is not entirely gloomy. Indonesia (badminton) and Thailand (weightlifting) have shown success within particular disciplines can inspire young athletes and catalyse more funding.
“London could be the watershed, where people finally say ‘hang on, why are we so far behind the rest of the world?’” adds Wilson.