Geopolitics can never be far from sport, not in an Asian setting, what with China needing to exhibit its social and political potency.
There was every evidence that China is the superpower dominating the Asian continent as it unfurled its capabilities in hosting another spectacular sports event with dazzling lights, cutting-edge technology and breathtaking synchronisation. Remarkably, its President and supremo Xi Jinping did not add word power to the dazzling lights of the Asian Games Opening Ceremony, being content simply to formally declare the Games open.
Geopolitics can never be far from sport, not in an Asian setting, what with China needing to exhibit its social and political potency. The crowd at the Hangzhou inaugural reflected their ‘controlled’ national preferences as the Chinese reserved the second biggest rounds of applause after the home team for countries beholden to the mighty Chinese system — Macau, Hong Kong, North Korea and, of course, Taiwan, on whose territory China has set its eyes, and for Pakistan too.
In a team of 634 athletes in 38 disciplines, India has sent its biggest contingent of sportsmen ever to an event, while putting aside the slight of having three of its athletes from Arunachal Pradesh excluded from the Games. Host China, with its political clout, could get away with such brazen discrimination based on its insatiable territorial ambitions, as constantly revealed in fanciful cartography.
Asia, as a region with huge resources in terms of population, nations, capabilities, and economic aspirations, could spur itself on to a much larger role in world affairs if it could speak in one voice, but then the pulls and pressures of a bipolar world may never permit that. If China, the superpower on the eastern side of that divide, tries to expand its hegemony, India, with its pro-West tilt now, is seen as the balancing counterweight.
In deciding that sport should not be held hostage by politics, India, as a rising power in the region which could have even considered a pullout, took a wise decision to keep the focus on its athletes and performance. That the Union sports minister is to skip the Asiad should do little to spoil the aim of letting the sportspeople bask in the limelight with an opportunity to display their competitive spirit in the Games that got pushed back by a year owing to Covid.
Having topped the medals tally in 10 of 12 Asiads since joining the regional Games and having done so continuously since the New Delhi Asiad in 1982, China is the clear sporting superpower in this company. But it is the rising prowess of India’s sportspeople and a billion-plus people’s emotional connection with medal winning champions beyond the cricket fields that makes the Asiad a golden opportunity for many, especially track and field athletes, wrestlers, boxers and shooters, not to forget the men’s hockey team, of whom a lot is always expected, besides the chess and badminton squads.
India will be aiming first to overhaul the 70 medals from the last edition in Jakarta while hoping that this will be the best Asiad ever in terms of the medal tally. The sporting scene has transformed for Indian athletes since it boasts of an Olympic and World champion athlete in its ranks now in the javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra. His inspirational golden trail has proved that nothing is impossible and there are many Indian athletes who would like to believe that as they hunt for medals.