INCHEON: South Korean President Park Geun-Hye inaugurated the Incheon Asian Games at a glittering opening ceremony on Friday.
“I declare the 17th Asian Games opened,” said Park, after athletes from 45 countries filed into Incheon's purpose-built main stadium.
The show to mark the start of one of the world's biggest sporting events themed around the concept of ‘One Asia’ united as a family and featured several famous music stars.
The 17th Asiad includes the full Olympic programme, while also featuring Asian favourites such as kabaddi and wushu, making for a packed schedule of 36 sports with 439 gold medals on offer.
Empty stadiums, stretched finances
The mayor of South Korea's third city has admitted that building 17 new venues for the games have left Incheon financially stretched, making it the most indebted city in the entire country.
New tower blocks and a metro line have also been added to Incheon along with the sporting facilities. However, the expected 200,000 visitors are conspicuously missing.
“Big sporting events do not attract the attention of the public anymore,” said 43-year-old Incheon office worker Park Song-Moo.
Organisers were hoping the opening ceremony would create a much-needed buzz around the games after slow ticket sales – just 18% early this week – generated an air of disinterest.
However, there were rows and rows of empty seats in the stands of the 61,000-capacity stadium for the opening ceremony.
Many of the matches so far in football, the only competition to start before the official opening, have been almost completely devoid of fans with barely 100 attending Jordan's win over the UAE on Thursday night.
However, spirits will surely improve if fan-favourite Jung Jee-Hae wins the Games’ first gold in the women's 10m air pistol on Saturday when the competition starts in full.
South Korea will be looking to consolidate second spot in the medals table behind China, who swept a record 199 gold medals and 416 overall at Guangzhou 2010.
Indonesia to host Asiad 2018
The Olympic Council of Asia executive board approved Indonesia as the hosts for the 2018 Asian Games on Friday.
The Games are finding it increasingly difficult to attract bidders due to the high costs of hosting the event. The continent's sports leaders had to find a quick replacement after Vietnam said in April that it could no longer afford to stage the next Asian Games.
“It has been approved by the executive board that the next Asian Games will take place in Jakarta, Indonesia," said council president Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah.
Ade Lukman, an Indonesian Olympic Committee official, said the country was delighted.
“Being selected to host the Asian Games is an honour for Indonesia,” he said.
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