Guwahati, Feb 4: Postponed several times due to a variety of reasons, the much-delayed but the biggest South Asian Games ever begin here on Friday with hosts India expected to stamp their superiority in the regional spectacle.
The 12-day Games, featuring 2,500 athletes from eight SAARC countries, will be declared open by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a glittering inaugural ceremony at the Indira Gandhi Athletics Stadium tomorrow.
The multi-sporting event, being held under the aegis of South Asian Olympics Council, is happening after a delay of four years. The 12th edition of the Games was to be held in 2012 in New Delhi but was postponed due to Assembly elections in the national capital.
After that, the Indian Olympic Association was suspended by the International Olympic Committee between December 2012 and February 2014, leading to further delay. After the IOA's suspension was revoked by the IOC, Kerala was tipped to host the Games but the event was handed to Guwahati and Shillong last year before another round of postponement.
The two cities thus got the opportunity to host India's third South Asian Games -- after Kolkata (1987) and Chennai (1995) -- and the biggest sporting spectacle ever in the North Eastern part of the country. But, just a day before the opening ceremony, the organisers suffered a jolt when basketball was derecognised from the Games by the sport's world body FIBA.
Participating countries have been told not to take part in the discipline which is scheduled to be held here from February 11-16. FIBA took the decision on account of the interference by the government and Indian Olympic Association in the conduct of the discipline in the Games.
Though nearly a week is there for the start of the discipline at the Nabin Chandra Bordoloi Stadium here, a red- faced organising committee is still hoping that a way out will be found in the next few days and the sport will go ahead. FIBA recognises a faction of the Basketball Federation of India while the IOA recognises another.
The IOA had selected Indian players to take part in the Games while the FIBA- recognised faction had also done the same.
Bangladesh capital Dhaka had hosted the last edition in 2010 and India had run away with a tally of a whopping 175 medals out of 528 on offer, including 90 gold out of 157, to hold on to regional superpower status.
Pakistan had finished a distant second with 80 medals, including 19 gold, in the Games competed among countries considered minnows in Olympic sports at the global stage despite being over 20 per cent of the global population.