South Asian Games 2016
Harpal Singh Bedi
I ndia, the sporting powerhouse of the region, is all set to reassert its dominance once again in the 12th edition of the South Asian Games (SAG) to be held for the first time at two venues- Guwahati and Shillong - from February 5 to 16.
The official motto of the Games is, "Play for Peace, Progress and Prosperity".The Logo – eight petals and the Mascot of the Games-- Tikhor, the baby Rhino were selected from around 450 entries each. Kolhapur’s Anant Khasbardar and Abhijeet Krishna of NIFT Patna created the mascot and logo respectively.
In the logo, eight petals represent the countries participating in the Games. The petals are seen to be moving in a clockwise direction showing the positive spirit of the games. The look also resembles a head gear that was given to the winners of games during the ancient times in Europe .The Orchid represents the flavor of the region and a welcome stem to all participants of the Games. The Orchid symbolizes the blooming of the synergy between these eight nations. Progress is the clockwise movement of the petals.
The Mascot -Tikhor is the motivator, friend and familiar to sports lovers of the region. He is carrying the message of peace, stability, amity and progress in the region.
The anthem of the games is a famous Assamese song, "Ei Prithibi Ek Krirangan" (The world is a playground) by Bhupen Hazarika, the legendary lyricist, musician, singer, poet and film-maker from Assam. Over 4500 sport persons and officials from eight countries- Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and host India are scheduled to compete in 228 events over 23 sports in this regional sporting extravaganza. Seven events- Archery, Badminton, Boxing, Football (W) Table Tennis ,Taekwondo and ,Wushu -will be held in Shillong.Sixteen events -Athletics ,Basketball, Cycling ,Football (M) Handball, Hockey,Tennis, Kabaddi, Kho Kho, Shooting, Squash, Swimming, Triathlon, Volleyball, Weightlifting and Wrestling are scheduled to be conducted in Guwahati. India will take part in all the events and as per the list available with the organizers.it will field the largest contingent of 519 sports persons and officials. Srilanka has send the tentative list of 484 participants and officials, followed by Bangladesh (409) Nepal (398),Pakistan (337), Afghanistan (254), Maldives (184) and Bhutan (87). India is hosting these games for the third time- having earlier held them in a Kolkata (1984, and Chennai 1990). Bangladesh has also held these games thrice-In Dhaka 1985,1993,2010). While Nepal (Kathmandu 1984,1999),Pakistan (Islamabad 1989,2004),and SriLanka (Colombo 1991,2006) has conducted them twice each. While four countries have held these games in their capitals ,India is holding them in different states. This time North Eastern states will be hosting the first international event and it will help in showcasing the potential of the region. This is also for the first time in the 32-year history of the Games that it is being held at two different places. At the launch of the Torch Relay at Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium in New Delhi on 18th January, 2016 Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said "It's a very good beginning. The torch relay has been successfully launched and this torch will first go to Shillong and then come down to Guwahati." "We are very happy with whatever support we have received so far from the Government of Assam and Meghalaya and the people of North East. So we are firmly of the opinion that this SAG will be a grand success. These Games will help North East to focus on the potentialities, probabilities and prosperity of the region," said the Minister, who is also the chairman of the Games Organising Committee. After lighting the torch, Sonowal passed it on to Olympic hockey gold medallist Zafar Iqbal and Commonwealth Games champion weightlifter N. Kunjarani Devi to begin the relay. “The South Asian Games is the symbol of the cohesion, peace and harmony. The sportspersons are the sports ambassadors of their respective countries. These Games will energize the youth,” said the minister. Initially, these Games were to be held in India in October, 2012. However, it was decided to postpone the Games because the Indian Olympic Association felt that it was not feasible to conduct the Games only two months after the London Olympics, a fact which made athletes uncomfortable. In April 2012, the IOA announced that the games will be held for eight days beginning from February 13, 2013 but that was not approved by several member countries. Soon after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended the IOA for alleged political interference by the national government in its affairs. Two years later, on the 11 February 2014, the IOC revoked the suspension and a year later, on 5 June 2015, the uncertainty over the venue to host the Games ended with the Sports Ministry and Indian Olympic Association deciding to hold the regional multi-sporting event in Guwahati and Shillong in NovemberDecember 2015 However, this was postponed even further to finally hold it in February this year. History of the SAG: Proposal of the South Asian Federation (SAF) Games was first Mooted in Germany by India Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka in 1981. In 1982, it was decided that the SAF Games would be an yearly event which in turn, all the member countries would host. Next year (1983) the South Asian Sports Council (SASC), was formed to govern these games and it was decided to make it a bi-annual event. On September 17, 1984 amidst pomp, pageantry and paraphernalia, at the Dashartha Stadium in Kathmandu, King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev and Queen Aishwarya Rajya Laxmi Devi of Nepal inaugurated the games .The first nine editions were known as the South Asian Federation Games.In 2004, at the 32nd meeting of SASC, it was decided to rename the games from South Asian Federation Games(SAF) to South Asian Games(SAG) as the officials were of the view that the word Federation was diminishing the emphasis on event and acting as a barrier in attracting crowd. Since its inception, the Games have been dominated by India with Pakistan finishing second to their arch rivals seven times while Sri Lanka came second three times and Nepal once. The first nine editions (from 1984to 2004) saw participation by seven countries and Afghanistan became the eight member of these Games when it made its debut in 2006 at Colombo. The Games started at modest note with only five sports- Athletics, Swimming, Boxing, Football and Weightlifting- being held at Kathmandu. The second edition held at Dhaka in 1985 saw inclusion of two more sports Kabaddi and wrestling-taking the number of discipline to seven. In 1987, at Kolkata, the number of sports discipline was raised to ten and that number continued for next two Games. The number of sports went up to 11 in 1993 and in 2006 at Colombo seven new discipline were added and four years later at Dhaka the number went up to 23. It has been noticed that barring Men’s football competition in most of the team events tends to be lopsided. Even men’s hockey is IndiaPakistan affair with other teams like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal are just thereto add to the numbers without contributing to the growth of the sports in the region. India’s overwhelming authority in the Games is proved by the fact that country has so far won staggering 1728 medals in the 11 editions of the Games which include 900 Gold medals.
The following chart (source SAG office records) clearly shows the gap between India and the rest. Afghanistan made a very impressive debut winning six gold and followed it by seven gold medals in their second appearance. Maldives is the only country which has yet to win a gold in these Games. (Fig.1)
In this edition of the Games, India is fielding a relatively inexperienced men’s hockey team while defending champion Pakistan has announced that it will field its strong side. In squash also, battle for gold will be between these two countries. In football, Afghanistan has emerged as strong title contender. In this sport India will also face a tough challenge from Bangladesh and Pakistan.In Archery Bhutan is likely to put up some challenge while in contact sports, like Boxing, Wrestling Taekwondo and Wushu, though the hosts will have an upper hand, they are likely to face some opposition from Pakistan , Afghanistan and Nepal. It is going to be easy for Indians in Women’s Hockey and Football. The hosts are expected to have smooth sailing in Badminton, Cycling, Table-Tennis, Tennis ,Handball, Swimming, Weightlifting, Kho Kho, Kabaddi, Volleyball and Triathlon. In athletics, Sri lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal are likely to snatch some medals away from the hosts but they are unlikely to make any major difference to India’s tally which is likely to be better than the last edition held in Dhaka where the Games champion had won 175 medals(90 gold, 55 silver and 33 bronze). Pakistan is expected to retain its second position but the main focus will no doubt be on Afghanistan. Most of the Afghani sports persons are not based in their country given the turbulent political and security situation. They train either in Pakistan or in European countries and have emerged as a force to reckon with in this South Asian region. Afghani sports persons will be serious threat to Nepal,Bangladesh and Sri Lanka who have improved in various sports and hopefully they will show in their performances . It is also hoped that Maldives will also break the jinx and win its first Gold in the games.
(Author is a Senior sports journalist based in New Delhi, e-mail :firstname.lastname@example.org )