Does SAARC summit have sports on its agenda?

New Delhi, Nov 25: Wonder whether sport is all that important to be on the agenda of the two-day South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Kathmandu Wednesday-Thursday when the heads of states sit down to deliberate on a wide range of issues.

The secretaries of the eight SAARC countries, who chalked out the agenda for the summit, do not seem to have taken up the issue of the South Asian Games.

Obviously, the SAARC foreign ministers have more vital issues like defence, security and hassles in transport connectivity to worry about than cooperation in sports.

It would be interesting if any of the heads of states bring up the issue of India's inordinate delay in holding the Games when Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself is so keen on strengthening relations with the neighbours.

Sport surely can be a catalyst in promoting better relations among the SAARC member countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal,

Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India – as they pledge "Peace, Prosperity and Progress" in the region.

India dominates the SAG just like China in the Asian Games, though the regional Games may not be all that attractive for India, now that its sights are set much higher, but still they still enjoy their big-brother status.

Importantly, for cities like Dhaka, which hosted the SAG thrice, Kathmandu, Islamabad and Colombo, these Games will give them an opportunity to create infrastructure which otherwise was difficult to get. These cities came up with a multipurpose complexs to organize all the disciplines in one place instead
of going for mega stadiums.

For all the real and imaginary sins of Suresh Kalmadi as the IOA chief, he had done one good thing by reviving the National Games in various cities

so that the states could get state-of-the-art facilities. The facilities created for the National Games in Hyderabad came in handy for hosting the

Afro-Asian Games. Even northeastern states today have better facilities and the sports persons from the region are doing very well.

The tragedy with the beautiful infrastructure in Delhi is not that it is not being used even for national camps because there is no accommodation for the trainees. Instead, the athletes train in Patiala, Bangalore or at any other Sports Authority of India (SAI) regional centre.

What the Indian government and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) do not seem to realise is that the SA Games will be a good outing for youngsters to measure their potential. And as for the other countries they fight for the second position in the medlas tally.

The SA Games are a good platform for athletes from other SAF countries and beating the Indians will give them enormous confidence to do well at bigger events.

For instance, 15-year-old Asif Hossain Khan beat hot favourite Abhinav Bindra in the men's 10-metre air rifle individual final to claim the gold at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games while 12 years later, his compatriot Abdullah Hel Baki had to settle for silver with the Indian winning the gold at the Glasgow Games earlier this year. Likewise, the Sri Lankan athletes did well at the Games.

It was at India's initiative that the Games got off to a start exactly 30 years ago, Kathmandu hosting the inaugural event. It is a biennial event and after the 2010 Games in Dhaka, India was to host it in 2012.

The Games became a casualty in the tug-of-war between the union government, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and the national sports federations over the sports code.

The preparation for the London Olympics pushed the Games to 2013, the year in which the IOA ran into problems with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) over the election guidelines.

Just as in 1986, when the SAG were not held citing the busy schedule of Commonwealth and Asian Games, this year, too, the two major events were held back-to-back. Every four years or every alternate South Asian Games are bound to be affected by the big ticket events.

The first half of this year was consumed by the General election, the formation of a new government and the Commonwealth and the Asian Games.

Delhi was the chosen venue for the 2012 Games, but the IOA doesn't want to hold it in the national capital for fear of another Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) backlash just as it had happened after the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Also, there is no designated accommodation for the athletes and officials and the organisers can't afford to have another Games Village fiasco.

Now, with nothing in the way, IOA Secretary General Rajeev Mehta has promised to hold the Games in 2015. A decision on the venue and the dates will be decided at the December 19 Annual General Meeting of the apex body of Indian sports.

One thing is certain: The Games will not be held in Delhi and the IOA is looking eastward. The choice is between Ranchi, Guwahati and Kolkata. Since Kolkata hosted the third edition in 1987, it could as well be Ranchi, which organised the last National Games in 2011, or to please the union sports minister it could well be his hometown Guwahati.


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