A stage for Indians to flex their muscles

South Asian Games : Giants of the region face little contest all around

A stage for Indians to flex their muscles

 Majority of the cream of Indian sportspersons will be forced to shun their Olympic preparations in exchange for minor gains as the much-delayed 12th South Asian Games kicks off on Thursday amidst criticism of bullying from the Sport Ministry.

With Rio Olympics six months away, the top Indians athletes had their schedule all planned in hope of coming up with their best at Brazil but with India staging the SAG at Guwahati and Shillong, they’ve been compelled to compete despite many expressing their reluctance.

Plenty of reasons have been cited for the Ministry’s directive asking the various national federations to name the best teams despite the complete lack of competition from the other seven participating nations.  From Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal trying to gain as much mileage as possible ahead of the Assam State polls in April to India using this event to show their ever increasing political might in the SAARC region, various theories have been floating about.

While the Ministry claims that this is India’s Games and it is the duty of the top athletes to turn up and make it a grand success, one can’t stop feeling for the shuttlers, boxers, shooters and archers — all having potential Olympic medal winners in their camp — who feel Guwahati/ Shillong is nothing but an avoidable distraction.

Having said that, there is no doubt on who will walk away with the majority of the spoils when the Games get going. Ever since the first Games in 1984 at Kathmandu, India have faced very little competition from their rivals, galloping home in a canter in almost all disciplines.

The number of medals they’ve won has been staggering to say the least, showing how bad the level of competition has been. With India also making solid advances over last decade or so in many other streams, the gulf in class has only widened. Such has been India’s domination until now that all other competitors seem like they are to merely make up the numbers and it wouldn’t be any different this time around as well even if some of them don’t necessarily operate in top gear.

Be it athletics, kabaddi, shooting, swimming, tennis, weightlifting, wrestling, archery, badminton, boxing or table tennis, the hosts possess just too much firepower. If there is one sport where they could face some challenge, it is hockey as Hockey India sent in a third string side while rivals Pakistan named a strong one.

What this Games could do is provide a rare chance for people in this region to see the some of the stars in action. Not very often do cities like Guwahati and Shillong stage events of this magnitude and the general buzz surrounding it exudes hope that there there would be big turnout for these Games.

The Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport in Guwahati was still getting decked up a day prior to the opening ceremony with workers burning the midnight oil to get it ready.

Fresh tar was still being laid out in areas leading up to various venues with only banners — politicians overshadowing the mascot — in place. At some venues, work was still under way despite action less than a day away and just how ready they are when time comes remains to be seen.

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