SINGAPORE - The upcoming Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (Aimag) in Thailand, slated for March 2022 and already postponed by almost a year, has been delayed a further 20 months to November 2023.
The next edition of the quadrennial event will be staged in Bangkok and Chonburi.
Originally scheduled for May 21-30, 2021, it had been postponed to March 10-20, 2022 owing to the pandemic.
But in a letter to member councils on Wednesday (Oct 20), Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) director-general Husain Al Musallam said the OCA had been informed by Thailand of the need to move the Aimag to November 2023.
Two options were given - Nov 10-19 or Nov 17-26 - with the OCA executive board members opting for the latter "after careful consideration of the calendar of sporting events in 2023 due to the impact of (the pandemic)".
No reason was stated for Thailand's decision to reschedule the Games.
A host of major international sports events is taking place in 2022 which involve Asian nations, most notably the SEA Games in Hanoi (May), Commonwealth Games in Birmingham (July) and Asian Games in Hangzhou (September). The biennial SEA Games are also a victim of the pandemic, having originally been scheduled for next month.
There has also been speculation that the lengthy postponement of the Aimag has to do with an Oct 7 announcement by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) listing Thailand's National Anti-Doping Organisation as being non-compliant, "due to the lack of full implementation of the 2021 version of the Code within their legal system".
As a result, said Wada, Thailand "may not be awarded the right to host regional, continental or world championships... for the entire period of non-compliance" and its flags will not be flown at such major international sporting events "other than at the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, for the next edition of that event or until reinstatement, whichever is longer".
The rules also apply to Indonesia, which was also listed as Wada non-compliant, although the reason for its blacklisting is "a result of non-conformities in implementing an effective testing programme".
The Thailand Aimag will be the third edition of the Games following the 2013 merger of the Asian Indoor Games and Asian Martial Arts Games, which had been held thrice and once prior, respectively.
Singapore has won four gold medals, 17 silvers and 19 bronze medals at the Aimag, which recognises results from before the merger. The Republic's last gold medals came in 2013 and were won by bowler Daphne Tan (women's singles, and women's doubles with Bernice Lim).
The Aimag in Thailand is set to be the biggest edition ever, featuring athletes from 63 teams (including those in Oceania) competing in 29 sports.
These sports include those on the Olympic programme, like badminton and shooting, as well as others like bowling, chess, floorball, netball and pencak silat.
Sheik Alau'ddin, chief executive officer of the Singapore Silat Federation, said that with Aimag's postponement, the Asian body for pencak silat is looking to stage a South-east Asian Championship and Asian Championship, in January and March respectively, instead.
"Our national athletes have been allowed to train for a while already, which we are grateful for, but what they want is to compete," said the two-time former world champion.
"They get bored just training all the time with no competition to work towards."
For Singapore’s national netballers, the postponement means their next international level competition will be the Asian Championships next September, almost three years since they competed at the SEA Games in the Philippines in late November 2019.
The sport does not feature at the Asian Games and not at the SEA Games in 2022, and only the top 12-ranked Commonwealth nations will compete at the Commonwealth Games - Singapore are ranked 30th with almost every team ahead of them a part of the Commonwealth.
Netball Singapore executive director Cyrus Medora said that the association will explore opportunities for a training tour of Australia or the United Kingdom, once vaccinated travel lane opportunities open up.
He said: “It is the same situation for many others like those in Malaysia and Sri Lanka... Everyone is hungry for games.”