The 19th edition of the Asian Games will begin soon on Hangzhou, China. Asian Games, considered the second largest sporting spectacle after the Olympics will see participation from more than 40 countries. In the 2018 edition, more than 11,000 athletes competed, the first time the number crossed 10,000. Here is a low-down on the history of the games.
The 19th edition of the Asian Games will soon begin in Hangzhou, China. Initially scheduled for 2022, the Games were deferred due to the COVID-19 pandemic and will be held over a span of fifteen days from 23 September to 08 October 2023. Asia’s best athletes will be competing for top honours across 40 sports, 61 disciplines, and 481 events at the quadrennial event. Also known as Asiad, the Asian Games are considered the second-largest multi-sport event in the world after the Olympics. All member nations of the Olympic Council of Asia are eligible to participate in the event.
In this story, we look at how the Asian Games have evolved and improved in several ways over the years to become one of the most significant sporting events in the world by looking at participation and competition over the years. The data for this story has been taken from Dataful.
Asian Games officially started in 1951 after decolonization
The history & evolution of the Asian Games is an interesting journey that spans decades and reflects not only the growth of sports in Asia but the region’s evolving socio-political landscape too. As decolonization gained momentum after World War II, the notion of a continental sporting event for emerging nations gained traction. Asian nations sought a platform to promote mutual understanding and cooperation while asserting their independence and athletic capabilities.
While the 1951 edition is formally recognized as the First Asian Games, the Far Eastern Championship Games, also known as the Oriental Olympics, and conducted between 1913 and 1934, are often regarded as the precursors to the Asian Games. However, Guru Dutt Sondhi, the Indian International Olympic Committee (IOC) representative in London in 1948, proposed a more inclusive competition, involving more nations than just countries from the Far East. India played a leading role and hosted the inaugural 1951 Asian Games, although they were postponed by a year due to preparation delays.
The Asian Games 2022 in Hangzhou, China, postponed to 2023 due to COVID-19, marks only the second time this event has been rescheduled. From the 1951 New Delhi Games held in India to the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Games in Indonesia, the event has been hosted a total of 18 times by 9 nations.
Thailand has hosted the highest number of Asian Games having staged 4 editions (1966, 1970, 1978, and 1998). The country’s capital Bangkok hosted all four Games. South Korea hosted the games thrice (1986, 2002 and 2014). This year’s games will also be China’s third time hosting the Games after having hosted the games previously in 1990 and 2010. After 1951, India hosted the games once again in 1982. Japan, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia will be hosting the Games in 2026, 2030 and 2034, respectively.
46 Nations have participated in the Games so far
A total of 46 nations have participated in the Games, including Israel, which was excluded from the Games after its last participation in 1974 due to political reasons. The number of participating nations was only 11 in the first edition of the Games which has now increased to 45 since 2006. Afghanistan, Burma (present-day Myanmar), Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Nepal, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and India were the 11 participating countries in the first Asian Games.
Five Regional Sports are included apart from the Olympic Sports
Over the years, the number of sports has also increased. Usually, as per the rules, the Games may include all the Olympic Sports and events, as approved by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) including the mandatory sports of Athletics and Swimming. In addition, it can also include five regional sports and two sports proposed by the Asian Games Organizing Committee (AGOC) and approved by the OCA Executive Board (EB).
Following these provisions, unique Asian sports such as kabaddi, kurash, and sepak takraw have been included in past Asian Games, alongside Olympic sports. Competitions in archery, artistic swimming, boxing, breaking, hockey, modern pentathlon, sailing, tennis, and water polo will also serve as Olympic qualifiers, with 74 Paris Olympics 2024 quota spots available in those nine sports. The 2023 Games also has medals up for grabs in cricket as the sport returns to the event after nine years. Cricket was previously included as a medal event in 2010 and was contested again at the next edition in 2014.
The highest number of sports included was 42 in 2010. A total of 40 different sports have been included in the Games for 2023. India will be competing in 38 of them.
Along with the number of sports, the number of events has also increased. From 57 events contested in 1951, the number of events in the Asian Games has crossed 400 since 2002. Around 465 events were held in the Games 2018. This year, the competition will be across 481 events.
More than 11,000 athletes took part in 2018
For the first time, the number of participants touched five digits in 2018 with 11,800 participants. This is the all-time highest number of participants in the Asian Games since its inception. The number was less than 500 in the initial year. In fact, India alone will be sending 634 athletes to the Asian Games 2023. China has reported that 886 athletes will be participating.
Appu – the elephant is regarded the first mascot
The mascots of the Asian Games have varied in appearance and symbolism over the years, reflecting the host country’s culture, heritage, and values. The 1982 Games held in New Delhi was the first Asian Games to have a mascot. The mascot for the Games was Appu – a kid elephant. Known in real life as “Kuttinarayanan”, this elephant fractured its leg in an accident when he was seven years old and succumbed to the injury later. The official mascots of the 19th Asian Games are robots Congcong, Lianlian, and Chenchen, which symbolize the internet prowess of Hangzhou City and Zhejiang province.
The performance of countries in the Asian Games varies from edition to edition, and certain countries have historically been strong contenders in terms of medal counts. While some countries consistently perform well across multiple sports, others excel in specific disciplines. In the next story, we will look at the medals won by different nations while focusing on India’s performance.