A haphazard organisation of the 2018 Asian Games torch relay at the continental event’s birthplace, New Delhi, led to a comedy of errors which saw elite Indian athletes including P R Sreejesh, Sardar Singh, Jitu Rai and Sharath Kamal hitching a ride on the media bus.
The stranded athletes however were sporty enough and did not mind taking a shared transport with the covering media, probably because of the short distance involved from National Stadium to India Gate and back.
“The whole thing was a bit chaotic but it is okay. We did not mind it so much,” said a top athlete, who was part of the ceremony, told PTI.
It was a significant occasion nonetheless as the 2018 Asian Games torch relay began its 18,000km journey from the National Stadium, where the Games’ flame was lit for the first time at the inaugural edition in 1951.
“India always holds a special place in the hearts of sportspeople in Asia, because the nation, specifically New Delhi, was the birthplace of the Asian Games. The torch relay today will bring the two countries even closer,” said Erick Thohir, chairman of Indonesia Asian Games Organising Committee (INASGOC).
Indonesian badminton legend and Barcelona Olympic gold medallist Susi Susanti handed over the torch to India’s five-time world boxing champion MC Mary Kom, who ran with it briefly before passing the baton to other Indian athletes.
Hockey players Sreejesh and Sardar Singh, table tennis stars Manika Batra and Kamal, ace shooter Jitu were among the athletes who got their hands on the torch.
The flame will now travel to Indonesia, where it will be merged with a sacred flame from Merapen, Central Java, at the ancient Hindu temple of Prambanan on July 18.
From there on, the torch will pass through 54 cities in 18 provinces across the archipelago before reaching Jakarta for the opening ceremony on August 18.
The multi-sporting event will run from August 18 to September 2 in Jakarta and Palembang. It is the first time that two cities are co-hosting the Games, making it a more challenging task for the organisers.
“In 2026, as you know FIFA World Cup will be hosted by three different countries (USA, Mexico and Canada). It is challenging (to host Asian Games in two different cities) but it is good for the economy and travelling time between both the cities is not much (45 minutes). In future, I am sure more host countries will go for multiple cities. It helps in boosting growth of the host cities and job creation,” said Thohir.
He also informed that a record 16,920 athletes and officials have been registered for the Games. Overall, more than 11,000 athletes will be vie for medals in 40 sports and 67 disciplines.
“Asian Games are now even bigger than the Olympics. As far as the number of sports are concerned, the OCA needs to decide on that,” added Thohir.
Also present on the occasion were Narinder Batra, president of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and secretary general Rajeev Mehta; Wei Jizhong and Raja Randhir Singh, life vice-presidents of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA); and sports secretary Rahul Bhatnagar.
Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore could not make it due to other important commitments. Former Sports Minister Vijay Goel, who was supposed to be the chief guest in Rathore’s absence, too did not turn up.
Mehta said that IOA has written to the Sports Ministry on having a permanent memorial for the Asian Games torch ceremony as it happens once in four years.