Asian Games: Australia facing hurdles in bid for Asiad inclusion

World sporting powerhouse Australia has produced many Olympic and world champions including hurdler Sally Pearson (right). They are traditionally strong in swimming, athletics, cycling and rowing.
World sporting powerhouse Australia has produced many Olympic and world champions including hurdler Sally Pearson (above). They are traditionally strong in swimming, athletics, cycling and rowing.PHOTO: REUTERS

They are eager to be part of the Asian Games from 2022 but could face some opposition

Australia may be keen to pit its athletes against some of the world's best at the Asian Games, but will likely have to lobby hard for its inclusion before the proposal is embraced by Asia.

Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) president Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah is said to be open to the concept, but several officials from different National Olympic Committees (NOCs) within the continent are taking a more tentative approach. Some, for starters, have reservations over how Australia's inclusion would alter the identity of an event the continent has built up over more than six decades.

"They have to understand that the Asian Games was started by Asia and the Asian people have worked very hard to build it," Olympic Council of Malaysia secretary-general Low Beng Choo told The Straits Times (ST) yesterday, hinting that the resistance from the continent is likely to be strong.

Australia has long desired to forge close sporting ties with Asia to expose its athletes to stiffer competition against top nations like China, Japan and South Korea.

Its national football body left the Oceania body to join the Asia Football Confederation in 2006. And Australia - along with the other 16 NOCs from Oceania - also successfully sought inclusion to this September's Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Turkmenistan.

Australia began negotiating for its participation at the ongoing Asian Winter Games just five months ago - agreeing that its team would be ineligible for medals - and has a 30-strong contingent competing in Sapporo, Japan.

But rather than seek inclusion at the quadrennial Asian Games, Low suggested that Australia take leadership to spearhead a multi-sport Games for Oceania. Australia participates in the quadrennial Commonwealth Games and will host the 2018 edition in the Gold Coast.

She said: "The Europeans started their own Games, and there's also the Pan-American Games. Isn't it about time they have their own continental Games? The 'bigger boys' also have a responsibility to help build and help their region grow."

She also argued that the Asiad's size - it features more sports and athletes than the Olympics - means including Australia would put a greater burden on hosts.

The last edition in South Korea in 2014 saw about 13,000 athletes compete across 36 sports.

The 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang will feature 45 OCA member countries.

Brunei National Olympic Council secretary-general Zuraimi Abdul Sani said Australia's status as a world sporting powerhouse will be a factor. He said: "Brunei is such a small country with a small number of athletes and it's always been difficult for us to get medals. Australia's inclusion could help our athletes be more competitive, (but) there are always pros and cons with anything."

Australia is expected to make an appeal at the next OCA general assembly meeting in Turkmenistan in September.

Said a spokesman from the Singapore National Olympic Council: "The inclusion for Australia to join the Asian Games is a collective decision which the national Olympic committees of Asia have to make.

" There are many factors to consider and we will discuss this with our fellow NOC colleagues if it is tabled."

When contacted by ST yesterday, Indian Olympic Association secretary-general Rajeev Mehta also chose to reserve comment until there has been an official appeal made by Australia.

Still, Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates, who met OCA's Sheikh Ahmad this week in Sapporo, remains optimistic about his country's chances.

He expressed interest that Australia would compete in sports like gymnastics, badminton and table tennis, which are sports Asian countries are traditionally strong at.

Said Coates, who is seeking participation from the 2022 Asiad in Hangzhou, China: "I have always wanted to provide our athletes... the opportunity to compete more in Asia and I think this will be possible given our warm welcome in Sapporo and our close working relationship with Sheikh Ahmad.

"(Asia) can help us, and we'll reciprocate, so they can come and compete in our nationals too in events like swimming and rowing.

"There is no reason why it shouldn't happen."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2017, with the headline 'Australia facing hurdles in Asiad bid'. Print Edition | Subscribe