Festive Hangzhou ready to roll out the Asian Games - Hindustan Times
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Festive Hangzhou ready to roll out the Asian Games

By, Hangzhou
Sep 20, 2023 08:08 PM IST

India’s hockey and table tennis contingents were cheerful as they touched down in this tech city of China for the sporting showpiece

A crowd of selfie seekers and autograph hunters chased Achanta Sharath Kamal as he made his way to the departure gate at the Delhi airport. The ground staff proudly announced the presence of the national table tennis team before breaking into applause, drawing puzzled looks and selfies from the other passengers. G Sathiyan smiled sheepishly and Manika Batra nodded in acknowledgement as the team boarded the flight to Hangzhou to begin its campaign at the 19th Asian Games that officially kick off on Saturday.

The Indian Table Tennis contingent for the Asian Games(Twitter)
The Indian Table Tennis contingent for the Asian Games(Twitter)

If the mood of a team is a fair indicator of its form and confidence, Indian fans can breathe easy as far as men's hockey is concerned. The team was bubbling with enthusiasm at the Hangzhou airport with PR Sreejesh and Manpreet Singh – only these two in the current squad have won an Asian Games – pulling their usual antics. While the exuberant goalkeeper teased Nilakanta Sharma for respecting the queue, Manpreet went after an unsuspecting Lalit Upadhyay.

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At the other end, Jarmanpreet Singh gazed quizzically at Charanjot Singh and Karman Singh, the e-sports duo that will represent India in FIFA Online. “Who are these kids?” he inquired. On being told, Singh went in chaste Punjabi, “FIFA, as in video game? When did video games become part of Asian Games?”

While members of the globe-trotting hockey squad chose to sit by themselves at the Hong Kong airport while waiting for the Hangzhou flight, the e-sports boys were inseparable. They played chess and FIFA on the Delhi-Hongkong flight and by the time they landed in China, they had decided on the Indian sporting heroes they wanted to meet.

“Neeraj Chopra for me,” said Charanjot, Karman picked chess prodigy R Praggnanandhaa. “It’s a challenge to pronounce his name correctly, but the world will soon learn,” mused Karman. Charanjot chipped in: “Call him Praggu. I am sure he won’t mind.”

And so Indian athletes, 655 of them, from diverse backgrounds and with disparate understanding of each others' craft, will go about their business at the Covid-delayed Asian Games.

Hangzhou ready to roll

They call it paradise on earth, and while Hangzhou's claims may be challenged by other contenders, there’s no denying that the city has left no stone unturned in providing a seamlessly memorable experience to the travelling contingents.

Among the first things one notices on landing – apart from the gusts of hot wind – are Chenchen, Congcong and Lianlian, the Games' mascots. From airport lounges to bus stops to busy thoroughfares, the robots smile at you, cheerfully conveying the subtext of this being a city high on cutting-edge technology. The Games’ slogan – ‘Heart to heart, @ Future’ -- hangs proudly from banners that adorn every building and conceivable corner of the city along the route from the airport to the media village.

The airport too bore a festive look with the thousands of athletes and travelling media having ramped up traffic by several notches over the past few days. As per the Games’ official website, over 800 Asian Games personnel arrived at the Hangzhou airport on September 16, a week before the Games. In a mock drill last month, about 350 volunteers acting as athletes cleared the customs in an hour. The airport authorities also conducted over 10 ‘stress tests’ to gauge their preparedness; and in line with Hangzhou’s stature as a tech-savvy city, the airport has a number of ‘smart gates’ that use non-invasive inspection technology for quick scans.

Hangzhou itself is spruced up with the trees flanking the roads and buildings getting a manicured look. The media village, in the suburb, has 18 skyscrapers to house journalists and technical officials. The slick apartments, officials say, will be open to the locals for sale and rent after the Games.

The greatest gift, however, is the permission to use Google and WhatsApp. Google has been banned in China since 2010 but the arrival of a high-volume of international travellers for the Games has seen the authorities making an exception.

The lifeline of the initial Games experience has been enthusiastic volunteers called ‘Little Qinghe’, or ‘little celebrations’. Dressed in smart turquoise tracksuits and always smiling, they are students drawn from 46 universities in Zhejiang, the province in eastern China of which Hangzhou is the capital.

There are about 40,000 volunteers at the Games. Some even took a two-month English-speaking course to be able to interact with the visiting athletes and media. Some like Chen Yufi, who has taken up the English name Amber, want to ensure the guests remember their names better. Sustainability is a priority for the Games which means only 12 of the 56 competition venues are newly built.

While India have already started competing in football, popular events such as shooting and hockey will begin on September 24. Badminton starts on September 28, athletics on September 29 and swimming on September 24.

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