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AAG officials optimistic that games will grow

The organizers of the first Afro-Asian Games, believe that these games have huge potential, despite their humble roots.

othersports Updated: Oct 30, 2003 16:01 IST

The marathon at the first modern Olympic Games more than 100 years ago was won by a Greek shepherd, Spiridon Louis, on the dirt road from the eponymous town of Marathon to Athens.

The Commonwealth Games, which includes 72 nations linked with the old British Empire, started out in 1930 in a village in Canada and cost less than $100,000.

The organizers of the first Afro-Asian Games, billed as the world's first sporting head-to-head between two continents, believe that these games have the same potential, despite their humble roots.

According to Sabyasachi Ghosh, an organizing official for the games, the response to the first games in Hyderabad has been encouraging for the event's future, despite difficulties leading up to Oct. 24 opener.

He said organizers had learned useful lessons that will help future games.

"We have basically established a benchmark in terms of facilities and accommodations," he said. "Now its up to the next city to build on that."

Previously, "the games lacked footing," he added. "The fact of the matter is that Afro-Asian Games has found a footing."

The Afro-Asian Games Council, headed by Kuwaiti oil minister Sheik Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah and including several Indian officials who planned this event, has already opened the search for an African site for the next edition, slated for 2007.

Officials are also buoyant on the chances of India hosting the Commonwealth Games and, eventually, the Summer Olympics.

Al-Sabah, who is also the president of the Olympic Council of Asia, has publicly backed India's bid for the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

The Commonwealth Games Federation is scheduled to meet next month in to decide the host from two candidates — New Delhi and Hamilton, Canada.

These games, however, have had detractors who say that it's nothing but a huge public relations ploy.

According to some of the organizers' own estimates the total cost of the games will total 1.25 billion rupees ($27 million), much of it paid out by the national government and the state government of Andhra Pradesh.

"The country will be spending precious money, much of it the taxpayers', just to gain goodwill and very little else," read the editorial of an English-language daily early on in the planning process.

The games have also drawn criticism of the organizers for planning it over the most celebrated Indian holiday of the year, Diwali — the equivalent, some say, of holding the Olympics over Christmas.

The sharpest criticism of the games has been the lack of top athletes participating.

Organizers had expected that the top four athletes or teams from each event at the All African Games held this month in Nigeria and at the 2002 Asian Games held in South Korea would compete at these games.

Despite this, many top competitors — including 2002 soccer World Cup contenders Cameroon and the top tennis teams from Asia — didn't show up at the opening ceremonies.

The athletes that did arrive, however, have approached their events with professional respect, though they too concede that the level of competition here doesn't meet the standards of some other events.

"It's nice to come here and compete," said Natalie du Toit, a South African swimmer, "but there's (few) top competitors here."

The Afro-Asian Games "are here to stay," she added. "They've done a good job of organizing. It's gone well."

"The competitive level here is lower," said Kato Tsuyoshi, a coach for the Japanese swim team, "but the friendship and sportsmanship are very good."

Frankie Fredericks, a four-time Olympic silver-medalist, won gold medals in the 200 meters and the 4x100 relay shortly after flying into Hyderabad on Wednesday.

The 36-year-old Namibian said he competed here because he liked the concept of the two-continent format and hoped his involvement would encourage others to include the next Afro-Asian Games in their competitive schedules

"This is the first one, so I wanted to get involved," he said. "The Indian (organizers) have done a great job... and the next one is in Africa, so I hope that everyone supports that."

When the first modern Olympics started in Athens in 1896, only 241 athletes — all male — from 14 countries participated. By contrast, the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney included more than 10,000 athletes — many of them professionals — from 199 countries.

The games were broadcast via television, radio and the Internet to an audience of billions.

The first Afro-Asian Games attracted an estimated 2,000 athletes and officials in eight sports. Organizers are hoping to extend next time.

First Published: Oct 30, 2003 16:01 IST