The 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, kicks off on Saturday.
After the one-year postponement brought about by the global pandemic, the 19th edition of the Olympic Council of Asia’s flagship event is taking place from September 23 to October 8, 2023 in Hangzhou and five co-host cities in Zhejiang Province.
The organizing committee HAGOC, the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) and our 45 National Olympic Committees (NOC) have waited eight years for this moment and, as the OCA Director of International and NOC Relations, I cannot express how excited we all are to finally come to Hangzhou and to celebrate the Asian Games for the first time in five years – since the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang, Indonesia in 2018.
The enthusiasm of the NOCs to unite in Hangzhou can be seen by the record number of athletes – over 12,000 in 40 sports, 61 disciplines and 481 gold medal events. The previous record was 11,300 in Indonesia in 2018, so the Asian Games is adding 1,000 more athletes to the program for Hangzhou.
I have been to Hangzhou several times before and after the pandemic, which prevented personal visits from 2020 to 2022, and have been very impressed with all aspects of planning and preparations for the Asian Games.
The competition venues are no doubt up to the standards, if not beyond, of the Olympic Games, while the related infrastructure, such as the Asian Games Village, the Main Media Centre and the official hotels, are all first-class.
However, there is much more to admire in Hangzhou than the Asian Games-related projects. As I have traveled around the city, the urban planning is truly a delight to behold with an abundance of parks, trees and colorful flower beds interspersed with the gleaming office towers of the new, modern and dynamic China. This is a credit to the responsible approach of the municipal and provincial governments, providing a clean and green lifestyle for the people in which to thrive.
The 19th Asian Games will provide a window to the world for Hangzhou. We all recognize Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou as iconic cities in China, but Hangzhou is not so well known in this regard. The 19th Asian Games will change this.
This has happened in the past with the Asian Games, contributing to globalization and providing a stepping stone for Asian cities to move on to the world stage. Here are two recent examples.
Our Asian Games in 1986 were held in Seoul, South Korea and provided the organizers, the capital city and the country with the platform to host the Olympic Games in 1988. Seoul in particular and South Korea in general has never looked back, and is now an economic and industry titan throughout the world.
In 2006, the Asian Games moved to Doha, the capital of Qatar, and this provided the spark for the Gulf State to become a major player in international sport. Thanks to the exposure and experience of the Asian Games, Qatar can now organize any international sports event along with the best in the world, as could be seen at the FIFA World Cup last year.
From what I have seen over the years, the Asian Games play a big part in the development of the host city – and the same will happen for Hangzhou.
We are very proud of our Asian Games in the OCA, and particularly the fact that they have been held continuously every four years since the inaugural edition in New Delhi, India in 1951.
Despite wars, conflicts and natural disasters affecting many Asian countries over the years, the Asian Games have always provided a sanctuary for athletes and officials. Here, the Asian Games Village guarantees that everyone is welcome and everyone is the same, and provides the opportunity for the youth of Asia to understand more about the world and its people.
In this way, we feel that the Asian Games can contribute to peace and harmony in the future by preaching respect and tolerance.
All these factors have led to a very bright future for the Asian Games and the OCA.
We have already signed up host cities for the next three Asian Games after Hangzhou. Aichi-Nagoya in Japan is already busy preparing for the 20th Asian Games in 2026, and they will be followed by Doha, Qatar in 2030 and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 2034.
This shows the diversity and the capability of the Asian continent, from East to West, and the OCA will continue to promote and assist our NOCs – big and small – in their development at all levels.
The other continental associations under the International Olympic Committee must envy our position and our confirmed calendar of events well into the next decade.
It shows the trust, faith and confidence of our sports leaders in the concept of the Asian Games and the benefits of hosting such a huge multi-sport event; it also means that the next available Asian Games for any potential host city is in 2038 – 15 years away.
But that’s all in the future.
Now is the time to focus on Hangzhou and for all the parties – HAGOC, OCA, NOCs and the Chinese Olympic Committee – to work together and provide the best conditions for our 12,000 athletes and the best working environment for everyone connected to the Asian Games.
The OCA is confident that Hangzhou 2022 will provide another rich chapter in the success story of the Asian Games.
This article was first published on CGTN