23 Sep 2023, 15:55

Xi to open biggest ever Asian Games, after a year's delay

HANGZHOU, China, Sept 23, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - Chinese President Xi Jinping will

declare the Asian Games open at a glittering ceremony in Hangzhou on
Saturday, kickstarting a sporting behemoth that boasts more athletes than the

After being delayed by a year due to China's strict zero-Covid regime, more
than 12,000 competitors from 45 nations and territories across Asia and the
Middle East are in the eastern city to compete in 40 sports.

Xi is scheduled to open proceedings officially in one of the country's most
prosperous regions, in front of invited guests including Syrian President
Bashar al-Assad.

But rain could put a dampener on the occasion, with persistent drizzle

Assad -- on his first visit to China since war erupted in Syria in 2011 --
will join leaders from ally Cambodia, Kuwait, and Nepal, among others at
Hangzhou's Olympic stadium, state media said.

The Games are "likely to be China's post-pandemic soft power exercise in the
fully packed stadium with the presence of political and business leaders in
Asia," Jung-Woo Lee, sport policy expert at the University of Edinburgh, told

But they have already been rocked by a row between New Delhi and China, with
a trip to Hangzhou by India's sports minister cancelled on Friday.

It followed three women martial arts fighters from the Indian state of
Arunachal Pradesh claiming they were denied accreditation, a move China

The northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh is claimed almost in full by
Beijing, which calls it "South Tibet".

China's status as a sporting destination took a severe hit during the first
three years of the pandemic, when snap lockdowns and travel rules saw almost
all international events cancelled in the country.

- 'Open to all' -

The hosts are overwhelming favourites to top the medals table, boosting a
nearly 900-strong delegation, with Japan and South Korea battling for second.

Notably, North Korea has sent a team to end nearly three years of isolation
from the global sporting arena.

They will fight for medals in sports ranging from athletics, swimming and
football to bridge, along with a host of regional specialities including
dragon boat racing, Chinese martial art wushu and kabaddi, a popular contact
sport on the Indian subcontinent.

Nine sports, among them boxing, break dancing and tennis, will serve as Asia
qualifiers for next year's Paris Olympics.

A sprinkling of world and Olympic champions adds some stardust, including
India's javelin king Neeraj Chopra, Qatari high jumper Mutaz Barshim and
Chinese swimming royalty Qin Haiyang and Zhang Yufei.

Olympic Council of Asia honorary life vice-president Wei Jizhong said having
so many sporting disciplines was about giving opportunity to as many athletes
as possible.

"We are open to all. This means our Games are not concentrated only for elite
sportspeople," he said.

"When developing countries' athletes get medals their people are happy, their
government is happy, and they support sport. Sport has a high social
position. So I think this policy of OCA is successful."

The Games will be staged at 54 venues -- 14 newly constructed -- mostly in
Hangzhou but also extending to cities as far afield as Wenzhou, 300
kilometres (180 miles) south.

The centrepiece is the "Big Lotus" Olympic stadium with a capacity of up to
80,000 where athletics and the opening and closing ceremonies will be staged.

Hangzhou, a city of 12 million people an hour's bullet train from Shanghai,
is the unofficial home of China's tech industry and the Games will feature
driverless buses, robot dogs and facial recognition.

It is the first cashless Games, with Hangzhou a cashless city.

Organisers are also touting their environmental credentials, with a low-
carbon policy in place that will see venues powered by 'green' electricity.


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