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Special Article

India  reasserts sporting Hegemony at 12th SAG

Harpal Singh Bedi

India   reasserted its sporting hegemony in the region  as it reduced the 12th South Asian Games to a totally one sided affair  by bagging 188 gold medals  out of  239 at stake. The hosts left the remaining 51 to be shared between four other countries while  Maldives and Bhutan failed to break  the Gold Jinx.
A total of 788 medals including 239 gold, 239 silver and 310 bronze medals were up for grab and the hosts  collected a  staggering   308 of them  including 90 –silver and 30 bronze . In the last edition  held at Dhaka in 2010  India had won 175, including 90 gold,
Sri Lanka were a distant second with 25 gold, 63 silver and 98 bronze (186) followed  by  Pakistan  12 gold, 37 silver and 57  bronze(106), Afghanistan 7 -9-19  (35) ,Bangladesh  4-15-56 (75),Nepal 3-23-34 (60) Maldives 0-2-1 (3) and  Bhutan 0-1-15 (16).
The 12-day  long  Games  inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi   in  Guwahati  on the 5th of February   were also simultaneously held at Shillong as well.  The 12th South Asian Games  concluded on  16th February saw the participation of    2672 athletes  from  seven nations  in 226 events over 22 sports.
This was the third time that India hosted the Games, having earlier held them  at Kolkata (1987) and Chennai  (1995).
The  Games turned out to be a roaring success as they were conducted very professionally without any serious glitches .Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president  N.Ramchandran was rightly termed the 12th editon of the games as the “best ever”  held so far. saying  the athletes have raised the bar.
"I can say that the 12th South Asian Games are the best ever. Not only the biggest ever with participation of nearly 4000 athletes and officials, these Games in Guwahati and Shillong were the best. The bar has been raised. The athletes have been at the centre of these Games and they have many Games records," Ramachandran, who is also the South Asian Olympic Council president, said  at the closing ceremony.
He congratulated all the athletes who took part in the Games."I congratulate all the athletes who have won medals and those who have not won medals also because not only winning but participation is also important,"
 There was never ever a doubt about India’s superiority in these games as the country has been dominating  it since its very inception but   never before  - barring in few disciplines- the competition  turned out  be  so lopsided  as this  time.
But   even  in this  dominating display there were   defeats  for  the hosts- in men’s hockey and football  -which  hurt the fans who were hoping that  hosts will regain these two crucial golds which  they wanted badly.
Arch Rivals Pakistan put paid to India’s hope in hockey as they won the gold for the third straight time. They beat the hosts in the league as well in the final.
Nepal added  to the uneasiness in the Indian camp  when they piped  the hosts 2-1, in  football  to claim the  gold.
Though the officials were quick to point out that India fielded a comparatively new look side in hockey  as compared to Pakistan which sent its full team but  the excuse has found few supporters as Pakistan hockey has been in doldrums for long and  still they managed to beat India in Champions trophy and again here.
 In football  India had last won the gold in these was way back in 1995  discipline and had lost a good chance to regain that gold.
Former  U- 23 coach Sukhwinder Singh  expressed his unhappiness on the way the team played.  “India shouldn’t have faced any problem against Nepal had the boys prepared well, he said. The gold was always ours, but lack of preparation did us in. It’s sad, that Nepal defeated us in our own backyard. The level of competition was not that strong. This loss will not do any good to Indian football’s fortune,”
The hosts  faced challenge from Sri Lanka in Swimming in which out of 38 gold medals  it won 23 while the Island nation  bagged 12.  Bangladesh and Pakistan claimed two and one respectively.
In Athletics the hosts collected 28 out of 37 while remaining 9 were won by the Lankans. There was interest   in the athletics as  marathon event at the 12th SAG as it was also a qualifier for the Olympics.   The Rio Games women's marathon qualification standard stands at 2:42:00.
30-year-old Raut easily clinched the marathon gold in 2 hours 38 minutes and 38 seconds to become the fourth Indian women and the lone athlete to have qualified for the Olympics from the 12th SAG.
O P Jaisha, Lalita Babbar and Sudha Singh have already qualfied for women's marathon in Rio Olympics.
In  contact sports like. Taekwondo Afghanistan spoiled Indian party by bagging six of the13 Golds and the hosts had to be content with five.  In Wushu Indians won 11 while conceding five golds to other.
Indians  faced no challenge in Archery,(10) Boxing (10), Badminton (7), Table Tennis (5),Tennis (5) Triathlon (3) Volley ball (2)  Handball (2),Kabbadi (2) Kho Kho (2)  where they made a clean sweep.
Shooters  earned 25 of the 26 Gold medals, The contest in this sports turned out to be   among  the Indian marksmen themselves.  
Rio Olympics-bound Chain Singh   upstaged his senior team-mate Gagan Narang to win the men's 10m air rifle event with a total score of 204.6 .
Gagan, who had won a bronze in this event in 2012 London Olympics, had to be content with a bronze. He had also lost the gold to Chain in the 50m rifle prone event.
Pakistan deprived India a clean sweep in squash as hosts had to settle for three of the four Gold medals.  Weightlifters lifted 12-Gold   out of 15  and wrestlers grabbed 14 out of 15. Cyclists ran away with  Six Gold medals leaving the remaining two for Sri  Lankans.
The  one sided contests in 70 percents of  events  has  raised the questions on the standards of results, which  does not match the higher standards of Asian Games leave alone  International competitions.
In the events in which hosts made clean sweep, the same sports persons or most of them  will find it difficult to finish among first four in the  Asian Games.
One view is that with the standard being very low  ,these games should be trimmed and made u-23 competition but there  is another section which believes  that these games are necessary  for the sports persons of the region to showcase  their talent .”Given the  standard of living,and  lack of infrastructure not every sportsperson  of the not so affluent region can hope to make it to the Asian Games, hence why not let them enjoy the limelight even though in a limited sphere”
Star quash player  Saurav Ghosal, who won a Bronze in the Individual category and a Gold in the Team category,  also was of the view  that these  Games provides a great opportunity for several youngsters to play for India, which he felt was a massive privilege for many to wear the India shirt and represent the country.
“It is the perfect stage to nurture the next generation of superstars early in their careers, so that they could go to the Asians Games or Olympics with some experience. Being thrown into the deep end at bigger events, with so much riding on them, can make or break athletes” careers,”
Several top Indian athletes including Saina Nehwal and Inderjeet Singh had pulled out of the event. Ghosal felt that by opting out of the event of star players could have deprived the smaller sports- persons a chance to grow and feel recognised.
“Pulling out would deprive the so-called ‘smaller’ sports the necessary exposure to grow. It would starve them of the recognition they rightfully deserve. When else does the average Indian viewer watch weight-lifting, swimming or shooting live on TV or read about these athletes in the papers?”,
Citing the example of shooter Gagan Narang, Ghosal said that while he couldn't win Gold, the competition gave him an idea as to where he requires improvement ahead of the upcoming series of events.
“Olympic medallist Gagan Narang is a good example. I’m sure he’s been working really hard in preparation for the Rio Olympics later this year. However, he couldn’t produce his best scores in the individual event in Guwahati and had to settle for Bronze. I doubt he considers that a disaster, and nor should he. It gives him a good assessment of where he stands in his preparation and what he needs to work on in the next few months to be in the best possible shape in Rio. I’m sure this will hold him in good stead for when he really needs it,” he wrote
All said and done  the games  no doubt provide a platform for the youth  who dream to achieve  big. After all Pakistanis and Nepalese  were jubilant having beaten their big rival India in hockey and football. Afghanis proved they are tough in contact sport while Srilankans displayed remarkable  fighting spirit in swimming and athletics.
Bhutan sports persons went back with 16 medals though there was no gold while small island nation of Maldives grabbed three medals including two silver. The next edition of the Games will be held in Kathmandu.

 (Author is a Senior sports journalist based in New Delhi, views expressed are personal)