Asian sports should be better represented at the Olympics

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SYDNEY: Japan was the first Asian country to host a Summer Olympics in 1964 and this year became the only Asian country to host them twice. The Olympics that ended on August 8 included very few sports that could qualify as Asian, and the question is whether Japan did enough to promote more Asian sports in the last Olympics.

Five new sports entered the program of the Tokyo Olympics: skateboarding, karate, surfing, baseball / softball and sport climbing. With the exception of karate (which was reintegrated into the Olympic program), none of the other sports could be considered popularly practiced in Asia, except in some urban enclaves. Volleyball, a popular sport played by millions of people across Asia, was included in the program of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 and has remained an Olympic sport since then. Japan should have pushed for more popular traditional Asian sports such as sepak takraw to be included in the 2020 Games.

When Seoul hosted the Olympics in 1988, they included a 2,000-year-old martial art known today as taekwondo in the Olympic program as a demonstration sport, and since the 2000 Sydney Games, it has maintained its status as a full medalist sport. .

Taekwondo

One of the most striking images of the Sydney 2000 Games was when Lauren Burns won Australia’s first gold medal in taekwondo, and she was carried off the stage on the shoulders of her Korean coach. delighted to the applause of Australian spectators. This year, Thailand’s Panipak Wongpattanakit won the gold medal against Adriana Cerezo Iglesias of Spain in the 49kg women’s taekwondo event at Tokyo 2020. So, after becoming an Olympic sport, the game has made some converts in the whole world.

Two other Asian sports knocking on the doors of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are sepak takraw and kabbadi. The ancient sport, also known as kick volleyball, is believed to have originated around the 9th century in Asia. The objective of the sport is for a team (of five players) to send the ball over the net and land it in the opposing half of the field. In sepak takraw, players are not allowed to use their hands. They pass and shoot while jumping high in the air, inverting their bodies to slam the ball with great speed.

I discovered the sport at the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok, which I covered for an international news agency. During the final in the 10,000-seat indoor stadium in Bangkok, where Thailand and Indonesia were vying for gold, I witnessed a spinning Indonesian hitting a rattan ball over the net and it was returned by an equally acrobatic Thai player who used a perilous kick to land the ball on the ground between two Indonesian players who stretch their legs to reach it much to the delight of a large crowd of Thai fans drumming. The atmosphere in the stands matched the action on the court.

Since then, I have wondered why sepak takraw is not an Olympic sport. It has the potential to become one of the greatest spectacle sports in the world, and it’s tailor-made for television. South East Asian billionaires who have a fetish to invest in UK football clubs should invest their money in developing sepak takraw as a global televised sport.

According to Abdul Halim Kader, director general of the International Sepak Takraw Federation (ISTF), they have yet to be recognized as an international federation by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). “We hope to be recognized in the next four years,” he told Nikkei Asia in Japan.

Guidelines

In order for a new sport to be approved by the IOC for inclusion, it must follow certain guidelines such as being governed by an international federation that undertakes to follow the rules of the Olympic Charter, and it must also be practiced widely across the world. It is questionable whether Olympic sports such as horse riding and sailing could fall into the latter category as they are elite sports practiced by the wealthy few in the wealthy countries.

A new yardstick has crept into IOC thinking lately that may explain the questionable inclusion of hot new sports (if you can call them that) in Western countries in some urban conclaves across Asia. , which was promoted by Anglo-American World Television. network in particular.

Introducing new sports to the Olympic program in Tokyo and Paris, such as bike-motocross, BMX, skateboarding and surfing, IOC President Thomas Bach explained: “We want to bring sport to young people. . With the many options available to young people, we cannot expect more than they will automatically come to us. We have to go to them.

John Duerden, a Singapore-based sports reporter who writes in the Today newspaper, says a new sport must convince the IOC that it has so much to offer off the pitch in terms of market value and revenue from broadcasting and sponsorship. Thus, skateboarding performed well on social media engagement with the 18-34 age group, a key requirement for the IOC. This is the same reason for including other sports, excluding karate.

“The IOC was particularly interested in sports that appeal to the next generation, because young people are not as interested in the Olympics as their parents and grandparents”, notes Duerden.

Kabbadi

Perhaps this is a challenge that kabaddi has taken on, which is mainly popular in Southeast Asia, which is home to around a third of the world’s population. It’s a fast-paced game where teams of seven try to venture into opponent’s territory and hit as many rivals as possible. Kabaddi’s biggest challenge is to persuade the IOC that the game is being watched to a large extent outside of his South Asian home country.

Since its inclusion as a sport of the Asian Games in 1990, the appeal of kabbadi in Asia has grown and at the Jakarta 2018 Games 11 teams have participated including Japan, South Korea, Iran, Malaysia and Indonesia. China has not competed since the 1990 Games, and while India dominated the gold medal tally, in 2018 India’s dominance was interrupted when Iran won gold. .

A Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) modeled on the success of the Indian IPL cricket extravagance was launched in India in 2014. Because kabaddi is extremely popular in grassroots communities infiltrated by satellite television, the PKL has become a huge success with the inaugural season attracting 435 million spectators. It was modeled for television with a style of commentary and presentation similar to the television broadcast of sumo wrestling. Thus, it has the potential to become a global phenomenon like the latter. In April of this year, Star India renewed its PKL broadcast contract for $ 24 million per year.

If kabaddi could attract a similar audience to that which sumo wrestling attracts across the world, it will go a long way in convincing the Eurocentric minds of the IOC to include sport in the Olympics, and so would sepak takraw.

Meanwhile, ISTF’s Abdul Halim Kader said he was pushing for sepak takraw to be included in the 2030 Youth Olympic Games, which are set to take place in Thailand. “It could be a first step (towards becoming an Olympic sport),” he says.

BY KALINGA SENEVIRATNE, IDN-InDepthNews

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