INCHEON: The 17th Asian Games came to a close yesterday, bringing an end to two weeks of intense competition, drama and controversy that shone a light on the best and worst of a region that will host the world’s biggest events for the next decade.
A spectacular ceremony at Incheon’s Asiad stadium officially marked the end of a Games that was hailed as a brilliant success and a model for future multi-sports events despite being tarnished by doping, crime and rows over religious freedom, women’s rights and judging.
At a time when Europe and North America are increasingly reluctant to even bid for the biggest sporting events because of the astronomical costs, South Korea pulled it off for around $2 billion, a fraction of the $32 billion China spent on the last Asian Games or the $51 billion Russia splurged on this year’s Winter Olympics.
The cost-cutting is something that Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) hopes will not only safeguard the future of the Asian Games but also help continue the dramatic growth of the event from its humble beginnings to one of the world’s mega sporting festivals.
“The positive signals are from the whole picture. This Asian Games has become like the Olympics,” said OCA President Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah in his closing address to the media.
“Everyone is smiling and I think everyone was satisfied with the success of the Games.”
Going from strength to strength
The future of sport in Asia already looks rosy. After decades when sport’s biggest events were mostly split between Europe and North America, the power-base has shifted east.
South Korea will host the next Winter Olympics at Pyeongchang in 2018. Two years later, Tokyo will host the summer Olympics, and in 2022, Qatar will host the soccer World Cup while either China or Kazakhstan will be chosen to host the Winter Olympics.
“This is Asia’s time,” said Sheikh Ahmad. “The top five nations of the Asian Games medal tally are in the top 20 at the Olympics, which means Asia can meet the international standards.”
The flip side of celebrations
Five countries lodged formal complaints about the judging at the boxing and an Indian fighter refused to accept her bronze medal after losing her semi-final to a South Korean.
And the ugly spectre of doping left a dark stain on the Games with six competitors, including two gold medallists, kicked out for failing drug tests.
“With 9,700 athletes here there will always be some negatives, but we have only had six doping cases,” said Sheikh Ahmad. “It’s normal to have some negativity. However, if we only see the negative parts, we will never develop the future of the Asian Games.”