Asian Games 2023: Five things to watch out for as countdown begins

For India, the Games always bring back a dose of nostalgia as it was under Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru that New Delhi hosted the inaugural Asian Games in 1951

Light show at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre (photo: Getty Images)
Light show at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre (photo: Getty Images)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It is the second largest multi-discipline event after Summer Olympics. Even though a handful of events like football, volleyball and women’s cricket got underway on Tuesday, 19 September, the opening ceremony on Saturday, 23 September in Hangzhou in eastern China will formally usher in the Games, which will run until 8 October. 

The venue will be hosting nearly 12,000 athletes across 481 disciplines, a figure which is more than the expected 10,500 participants in the Paris Olympics 2024. For India, the Games always bring back a dose of nostalgia as it was under the leadership of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, that New Delhi hosted the inaugural Asian Games in 1951. The Indian capital also hosted the ninth edition of the Games in 1982 when Indira Gandhi was prime minister. 

It was from Pandit Nehru’s opening address that the Games authorities adopted the official motto: ‘Play the game, in the spirit of the game.’ 

A look at five things to watch out for as the Games get underway:  

Star power in athletics, swimming   

The track and field and swimming events, in keeping with the tradition of any multi-discipline event, will be the two marquee events with hosts China looking to dominate both. However, there is a lot of hype already around a potential javelin face-off between India’s Neeraj Chopra, an Olympic and world champion, and Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem, the Commonwealth Games champion. 

In the pool, Pan Zhanle and Hwang Sun-woo will headline the field in men’s 100 and 200 m, respectively, but others such as Ikee Rikako, Watanabe Ippei, Narita Mio, Li Bingjie, Siobhan Haughey and Zhang Yufei are also favoured to make the podium in their events. These two apart, badminton and table tennis also offer world class competition with a number of Chinese, Indonesian, Malaysian stars in the fray. 

Cricket: India vs Pakistan final? 

Ironically enough, the most-watched event at the Games may be a sport that is not currently on the Olympic programme. The way the draws have shaped up, India are likely to face Pakistan in the cricket final on 25 September (women) and 7 October (men), with many of the best available players from both nations in the respective squads. 

67 tickets to Paris  

The timing of the 2023 Asian Games gives an added context to aspirants for the Paris Olympics, offering as many as 67 quotas for Paris across nine disciplines: archery, artistic swimming, boxing, breaking, hockey, modern pentathlon, sailing, tennis, and water polo. While there is usually a two-year gap between the Asian Games and Olympic cycles, it has been reduced to a year as the Asiad is being held a year behind schedule owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

A breakdown of the Olympic quotas: six in archery, three in artistic swimming, 34 in boxing, two in breaking, two in hockey, 10 in modern pentathlon, six in sailing, two in tennis, and two in water polo. 

E-sports: A sign of the times? 

In what is surely a sign of the times, e-sports makes its debut as a medal sport in Hangzhou after being a demonstration sport in Jakarta in 2018. There will be eight medal events at stake — FIFA (made by EA Sports), an Asian Games version of PUBG Mobile, Arena of Valor, Dota 2, League of Legends, Dream Three Kingdoms 2 and Street Fighter V. A successful run of the event will strengthen its push for inclusion in the Olympics.  

Medals with Hangzhou branding 

The Games medals have been named Shan Shui, which translates to ‘mountain and lake’. The medal design comprises a round shape in a square jade, resembling the ceremonial jade cong, an ancient Chinese vessel from the Liangzhu culture. The reverse of the medal is a square seal, symbolising the athletes’ mark on the Asian Games. The medals also represent the geographical features of Hangzhou. 

“The medal takes its shape from the iconic landscape of Hangzhou and represents the three main attractions of the city — the West Lake, the Grand Canal, and the Liangzhu Ancient City Ruins Park,” said Zhang Junjie, director of the China Academy of Art’s industrial design department. 

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