Kochi, Mar 7: Pakistan Hammer Thrower G Shabbir clinched the first gold of the maiden South Asian Athletics Championship, which began at the Maharaja's College Ground here today.
Shabbir threw the hammer to a distance of 59.16m , while India's Madhu Kumar and Jitender Singh got the silver and bronze medals with throws of 56.26m and 55.61m respectively. Shabbir, whose personal best is 63m, started off with a 54.50m throw and followed it up with performances of 58.33m, 57.41m, 58.47m and the gold medal winning effort of 59.16. India's S Khan had a hard time as his throws were disqualified.
Earlier, Kerala Sports Minister M Vijayakumar declared the Championship open and underlined the importance of sports for the state.
He said the government was planning to introduce a comprehensive sports policy, which would serve as a model for the other states.
''Kerala is the first state to enact a 'Sports Act', based on which innovative policies would be chalked out for the uplift of sports in the state,'' he said.
Though the government was giving due importance to sports, there was lack of infrastructure and this would be brought to the notice of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and Athletic Federation of India (AFI).
Afghanistan, which had confirmed its participation in the Championship, backed out at the last minute.
With the non-participation of Afghanistan, as many as 220 athletes from seven countries--India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Bangladesh--were competing in the Championship.
In the impressive march past, Manjeet Kaur was the Indian flag bearer in the absence of long jumper Anju Bobby George as she was competing in the afternoon.