'Asian players have improved athletically'

'Asian players have improved athletically'

As the 17th Asian Games drew to an end on Saturday, Olympic Council of Asia president Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah hailed Incheon for producing a friendly Games that lived up to its “Diversity Shines Here” motto.

The Kuwaiti, at the helm of the continental body since 1991, touched upon various issues during an interaction with the media.

Excerpts:

On this Games: At Incheon, 14 world records, 40 Asian records and 80 Games records have been broken. North Korea, which was not sure of participation, finished sixth in the medals tally.  

The men’s hockey final between India and Pakistan was a full house. Even after Pakistan had lost the final to their rivals, Pakistanis stayed back and cheered their team. These facts show the success and the story of the Incheon Asian Games. Not only was it successful technically, but the players have also improved athletically.

On China’s domination: Eighty-two percent of NOCs have won at least one medal, which means all athletes have presented their country well. 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. Whoever deserves it will get a medal. I think China’s good efforts will encourage athletes from other countries to work harder.

On Olympics style qualification mark for Asian Games: Qualification standards are not necessary at the moment. If we limit the number of athletes, fewer countries will be able to participate, which means the chances of understanding various cultures will decrease. On the technical side, we have our own system, and are capable of having athletes compete against all nationalities.

On the hijab controversy: I’m upset about the entire issue. Players play with hijab in kabaddi, volleyball, handball etc. There seems to be a problem with only basketball. They need to realise that hijab is not a religious costume. It’s a cultural costume. People 5,000 years ago wore hijabs, albeit differently. Hijab in no way portrays a religion or enhances your performance. There are a lot of athletes who wear hijab but want to play sports. By banning them, you are turning them away which is against the Olympic charter.

On empty seats at various venues: For the citizens of Incheon, track and field was not attractive compared to taekwondo, swimming and judo. The concept of all venues and all sports differ, so we are still working on ways to increase the interest of spectators for all events. Also, the population of Incheon is 2 million while Guangzhou was 10 million.

On Jakarta: Indonesia has already hosted the East Asian Games, and even the president wants to host the Games successfully, so I believe we can achieve our goals when we combine the experiences from both the OCA and Indonesia.

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