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China as the “Host Nation” in Asian Games 2023: India’s Experiences By Primo Bindra

Updated: Oct 16, 2023


Image Courtesy: Times Now


Article 35/2023

The 2023 Asian Games proved to be a memorable event for India not merely because of Indian sportspersons’ achievements but because of their wins despite stumbling blocks posed by Chinese sports authorities.


On this note, the article would provide a brief overview of the 2023 Asian games and would move on to elaborate the experiences, challenges and achievements of Indian sportspersons in the Asian games hosted by China.


Asian Games 2023

With a spectacular opening ceremony on Sunday, 23rd September the Asian Games 2023 kicked off at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium in the People's Republic of China. Chinese President Xi Jinping formally launched the 19th Asian Games, which had been postponed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ‘Big Lotus’ hosted a spectacular performance that opened the festivities with the title 'Water in Autumn Glow'. The event was a tribute to the host country's rich cultural legacy and forward-thinking spirit, bringing together the ancient and the contemporary (Palshikar, 2023).


Following was the formal flag-hoisting ceremony. The Asian Games 2023's official mascots, Chenchen, Congcong, and Lianlian, were introduced (Agarwal, 2023). With a display of camaraderie, peace, and the Olympic spirit, the three invited everyone to the Hangzhou 2023 Games.


The 45-country Parade of Nations began with Afghanistan. The athletes took the stage in front of a roaring audience at Hangzhou Olympic Sports Center Stadium. Flag-bearers Harmanpreet Singh and Lovlina Borgohain led India's contingent. The Indian athletes added their unique flair to Hangzhou 2023 while dressed in traditional Indian attire. The final contingent to arrive in the Parade of Nations was China, fielding 887 athletes. A unique background score accompanied their entry, along with an enthusiastic crowd (Palshikar, 2023).


After 15 days of fierce competition, the 19th Asian Games Hangzhou concluded with a stunning Closing Ceremony at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium and a light show along the Qiantangjiang River directly by the ‘Big Lotus’ stadium.


President of the OCA (Olympic Council of Asia), Randhir Singh also spoke about the 19th Asian Games, saying: ‘Hangzhou, you have been the perfect host. China, thank you for your devotion, energy and smiles (Times of India, 2023) (Lokapally, 2023). The Asian Games were an unprecedented success. The Asian Games Flame will soon be extinguished but the spirit of the Asian Games will continue to burn. I declare the 19th Hangzhou Asian Games closed! We will meet again in three years' time in Japan.’


India’s Feat in Asian Games

Despite the excesses committed by China, India managed to maneuver through them and even win a lot of accolades.

(Hindustan Times, 2023)

This Asian was historical in many senses for India, whose contingent won a record-breaking 107 medals, surpassing all pre-event predictions. India's overall medal tally in Hangzhou was 28 gold, 38 silver, and 41 bronze, a quantum leap compared to the 70 medals the team won in Jakarta in 2018 (The Hindu, 2023). That's a quantum leap from two decades ago, when India returned from the Busan Asian Games with 36 medals. In Doha 2006 India's tally was 53 and 65 in Guangzhou four years later.


This historical feat sheds light upon the growing trend of Indian Sports; One key factor may be India's National Sports Development Code which was put into effect in 2011 and recognised sports as a national priority and a way to promote employment, social inclusion, and development. The nation's sports budget has increased in step with time, reaching an all-time high in 2023–2024.


A review of India's performance reveals that the sports that yielded the greatest results for the nation were archery, athletics, and shooting. In Jakarta, India had only taken home two gold medals from shooting; this time, they won seven. In shooting, the overall number of medals won climbed from nine in 2018 to 22 in 2023. Similarly, India had only won two silver medals in the archery competition in Jakarta. However, there was a huge leap at Hangzhou, where India won nine medals total, including five gold. In contrast, the total number of medals in athletics climbed from 20 in 2018 to 29; nevertheless, the number of gold medals decreased from eight in Jakarta to six in Hangzhou.


India also reclaimed its dominance in Asian hockey. There was a period when the most anticipated event of the games was the hockey match between India and Pakistan. However, this time, Indian men proved their prowess once again, defeating Pakistan by a score of 10-2, en route to the gold (Srivastava, 2023). India won the final 5-1 over Japan. Another noteworthy highlight was the equestrian team's 41-year drought ending as they clinched gold for the first time since Delhi 1982 (The Economic Times, 2023).


Most people's attention was inevitably pulled to the track and field competitions, which fans eagerly watched and anticipated. Here, it must be acknowledged that India's sports results fell short of expectations rather than exceeding them.


Following the excellent returns from the Commonwealth Games (CWG) that was held in Birmingham last year, Fans could be forgiven for hoping for a more inspired performance from the Indians at Hangzhou. This, however, was not to be; some top athletes fell short of even matching their own personal bests in Hangzhou.


China’s Excesses at the Asian Games & India’s Perseverance


There were also multiple controversies present at this iteration of the games. To begin with, In a surprising turn of events, Neeraj Chopra, India's renowned javelin thrower, faced a controversial incident. His initial throw, an impressive 87 meters, was left unmeasured due to an unspecified issue on the field. As recounted by Chopra, "Something happened at the other end, and they didn’t measure it properly. The next athlete threw quickly after me, and then they lost the mark." Kishore Kumar Jena, another Indian javelin thrower, also faced issues, being erroneously penalized for an ‘illegal attempt’. Jena's second throw, initially deemed a foul, was eventually deemed legitimate following appeals and protests. The inaccuracy in officiating led athletes and spectators to raise doubts regarding the bias in officiating.

Anju Bobby George on China’s Conduct of Asian Games (Banerjee, 2023)


Another major controversy was the matter of Indians from Arunachal Pradesh. Three Indian wushu players from Arunachal Pradesh, Nyeman Wangsu, Onilu Tega, and Mepung Lamgu, were unexpectedly denied entry into China for their participation in the Asian Games (Singh, 2023). The other seven athletes and support staff on the Indian wushu squad, meanwhile, faced no difficulties and continued their journey to China.

Anju Bobby George on China’s Conduct of Asian Games (Banerjee, 2023)


This episode is the most recent in a string of incidents where these specific players have run into difficulties when traveling to China for competition. The crux of the issue concerns the use of stapled visas, which represent China's stance of not recognising India as the legitimate authority over the state of Arunachal Pradesh. Even with India's unwavering stance on the subject—repeatedly stating that there is no territorial dispute regarding Arunachal Pradesh; however diplomatic tensions remain due to the recurrence of visa-related issues.


India’s Responses to Asian Games Host Nation, China

China issued stapled visas to Indian wushu athletes from Arunachal Pradesh and India rejected the same on grounds of violation of India’s territorial sovereignty and integrity (The Indian Express, 2023).


Arindam Bagchi, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson claimed that "in line with our long-standing and consistent position, India firmly rejects differential treatment of Indian citizens on the basis of domicile or ethnicity. Arunachal Pradesh was, is and will always remain an integral and inalienable part of India" (Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), 2023).


In the wake of denial of accreditation to the three Indian martial arts athletes by China, Union Information and Broadcasting and Sports Minister, Anurag Singh Thakur canceled his scheduled visit to Asian Games as a mark of protest to China’s indiscriminate behaviour towards Indian athletes (The Hindu, 2023).


Arindam Bagchi claimed that "the government of India has learnt that the Chinese authorities have, in a targeted and pre-meditated manner, discriminated against some of the Indian sportspersons from the state of Arunachal Pradesh by denying them accreditation and entry to the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China," (The Hindu, 2023).


Kiren Rijju, MP from Arunachal Pradesh posted in the X social media platform that "I strongly condemn this act by China to deny visas to our Wushu Athletes from Arunachal Pradesh who were to participate in the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou."This violates both the spirit of Sports & also the Rules governing conduct of Asian Games, which explicitly prohibits discrimination against competitors from member states” (Deccan Herald, 2023).


Conclusion

In conclusion, the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, was an event that blended elements of tradition and modernity, as athletes from throughout the continent gathered to showcase their skills. With a record-breaking 107 medals, India made history and highlighted its rising stature in sports (The Economic Times, 2023). The Games were also marked by issues, such as dubious officiating during the javelin throw event, which raised questions about favouritism. The refusal of entry for Indian wushu athletes from Arunachal Pradesh was another major issue that brought attention to the intricate geopolitical dynamics at work.


Despite these obstacles, the spirit of the Asian Games persists, celebrating sporting prowess and unity. The Games concluded with a message of unity and the promise of meeting again in three years' time in Japan. The Asian Games clearly showcases India’s perseverance in the face of China induced impediments.


(Primo Bindra is a Research Intern at C3S. He is currently pursuing his twelth grade from Oberoi International School. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the views of C3S)


References

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