After a few postponements, finally, the stage is set for the 12th South Asian Games in the Indian cities of Guwahati and Shillong from February 5-16. The opening ceremonies will be held simultaneously in Guwahati and Shillong on February 5.
This is the third time that India is hosting the biennial spectacle, which also features Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives. India previously held it in 1987 in Calcutta and in 1995 in Madras (Chennai).
Bangladesh has also hosted it three times – in 1985, 1993 and 2010.
Nepal hosted it twice, the inaugural event in 1984 in Kathmandu and 1999, in the same city.
Pakistan hosted it in 1989 and 2004 in Islamabad. Sri Lanka staged it once in 2010 in Colombo amid tight security because of the fears of Tamil Tigers.
Although the region’s major extravaganza is to be conducted after every two years as per rules, this edition is being staged after six years due to various reasons. The previous competitions were held in Dhaka in 2010.
Around 2500 athletes from eight nations will be showing their worth in 23 disciplines in the 12-day affair.
The Games, also popular as the Olympic Games of South Asia, used to be called the South Asian Federation (SAF) Games. In 2004, in the 32nd meeting of the South Asian Olympic Council, it was decided to name the event South Asian Games (SAG) since the officials believed the word federation was acting as a barrier in attracting crowd.
Although Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) is yet to finalise its final contingent, as per information provided by the Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) a 436-member Pakistan contingent, 200 male and 139 female athletes and 61 male and 36 female officials, will be going to India.
The number could be inflated with the induction of officials.
Pakistan will take part in 21 disciplines, which are archery, athletics, badminton, basketball, boxing, cycling, handball, hockey, judo, kabaddi, kho kho, shooting, squash, swimming, table tennis, taekwondo, tennis, volleyball, weightlifting, wrestling and wushu.
The PSB has refused to sponsor kho-kho on the ground that neither has a proper federation been formed to run the sport, nor is there any proper squad, male or female.
Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination (IPC) secretary Ali Gardezi will serve as chef de mission of Pakistan contingent. Shillong will host eight disciplines, while the competitions in the remaining disciplines will be held in Guwahati.
For the first time, Pakistan will be fielding three women boxers, women kabaddi team and women weightlifters.
Pakistan women kabaddi team featured in two recent World Cups hosted by India but that was circle style kabaddi. This will be the first time ever that Pakistani women will be featuring in a kabaddi competition of the Asian style under Pakistan Kabaddi Federation (PKF).
Pakistan will field a women volleyball team after almost two decades. In 1995, Pakistan women volleyballers made their debut in the event in Madras and won bronze medal. But after that the women team was discarded.
Pakistan will not feature in football because of the infighting between two groups of Pakistan Football Federation (PFF).
Initially when the bilateral cricket series between Pakistan and India could not be revived because of political tension, it was feared that Pakistan would not be able to send its contingent.
But a few positive steps from both countries made Pakistan’s participation possible.
The Foreign Ministry instructed Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) to ensure participation of a big contingent in the event. The Board was told that it was not an Indian event but a SAARC event and Pakistan must participate in it at all costs.
Pakistan’s participation in SAG will help them ensure India’s presence in this year’s SAARC summit to be held in Islamabad.
India took a positive step to ensure Pakistan’s participation in the South Asian Games by sending a delegation to Islamabad early this month. The delegation comprised Guwahati MP Shiribhubaneswar Kalipa, Indian Olympic Association’s (IOA) Secretary Rajeev Mehta, Joint Secretary Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports Onkara Kedia and Secretary to Government of India Ministry of Skills Development, Entrepreneurship, Youth Affairs and Sports AK Patro.
The delegation held meetings with the PSB, federal minister for IPC Riaz Hussain Pirzada and Pakistan Olympic Association (POA).
Pirzada was invited to India to witness the slots as a state guest. A member of the Indian delegation also said that South Asian Games were incomplete without Pakistan. The statement shows how diplomatic approach India adopted in convincing Pakistan.
The delegation assured Pakistan of “the highest level” security for its contingent.
It also offered POA to send its security team to India to assess the security arrangements. A three-member delegation of Pakistan was expected to leave for India on Saturday.
In a bid to avoid any untoward incident, Pakistan government has decided to send its contingent by air.
It has been planned to send the athletes in several phases keeping in view the schedule of the competitions in different disciplines. They will go two days before the competitions and return one day after their slots, which will cut down the expenses.
The athletes and officials will be charged 30 dollars per head during their stay in hotels in India. In case of overstay they could be charged 100 dollars per head daily.
In the chef de mission seminar a few days ago in Guwahati the organisers agreed that if the flight schedule of some athletes was disturbed and they had to prolong their stay then they would not be overcharged. The PSB has conducted dope tests in order to avert any humiliation.
In the previous four editions of SAG, Pakistan finished overall second behind India, which has greatly focused on its sports. However, this time it seems that the Green-shirts will not be able to maintain their position because in certain disciplines the camps have not been held in time which could affect the overall performance of Pakistan.
In athletics, Pakistan always bags a number of medals but six men’s events, in which national athletes could have earned medals, have been excluded.
Pakistan players are likely to do well in hockey, in which they are the defending champions, wrestling, weightlifting, handball, squash, shooting, kabaddi, volleyball, wushu and judo.
But Sri Lanka and Bangladesh could put Pakistan in trouble as these countries have improved a lot in various disciplines. In boxing, too, it is not likely that Pakistan will do well.
No proper plan has been made this time for participating in the South Asian Games. One can see only one foreign coach working with the Pakistan Judo Federation (PJF). It was necessary to hire a few coaches for other federations ahead of the South Asian Games.