When cricket was included in Asian Games for the first time in 2010 Bangladesh was most excited among the South Asian countries and there was no wonder why?
Until then Bangladesh’s medal haul in Asia’s premium sporting meet was limited to one individual bronze in boxing and few slivers and bronzes in kabaddi.
True to expectations cricket ended Bangladesh’s long wait for an Asian Games gold in the very first appearance and if there was no misfortune in coin toss in Incheon four years ago the glory could have been easily repeated.
It came as a blow for Bangladesh and other South Asian countries once the organising committee of the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta decided to drop the event from the meet citing lack of infrastructure.
Though cricket, a game now played by over 100 countries, was ignored with this excuse, it did not stop the organisers to add few sports, whose names were unheard to even some of the most decorated sports journalists now covering the meet in Jakarta.
Take pencak silat as an example. Legend has it that the ancient Indonesian martial art was originated after a woman watched a tiger do battle with a giant hawk, and copied their techniques to fight off a pestering group of drunken men.
Twelve of host Indonesia’s 30 gold medals came from this combat game, which was likened with the fighting scene of film star Rajanikant in Tamil movie by a scribe on Wednesday.
But pencak silat is not the only combat sport being played in Jakarta. kurash, a traditional wrestling event mostly popular in Central Asia, is another unknown event that left many people puzzled.
The objective of kurash is to throw the opponent on the ground on their back by grabbing hold of the towel around their waist. Apart from pencak silat and kurash, there are also few other unfamiliar martial arts being competed here. Sambo, jujitsu are among the few to name.
It was, however, not the fighting sport that alone raised eyebrows in Jakarta. Out of 42 sports included in Games, only 28 were played in the last Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and five others will be added in next Olympics in Tokyo 2020.
One of the non-Olympic sports in the meet is sepak takraw, better known as foot volleyball, where players acrobatically contort their bodies to launch the ball over a net using their feet, head or chest with the sort of skill that would make Lionel Messi proud.
Hosts Indonesia was the prime beneficiary of these bizarre sports, which doubled their gold medal haul than what they had expected at the start of the Games.
There are already questions if the ‘success’ in the game has any significance. An article in Jakarta Post on Wednesday says Indonesia can only sustain this if the Olympic Council of Asia allows the country to host the next editions of the Games.
‘Don’t be surprised if — at the upcoming Games in Hangzhou, China, in 2022 — Indonesia plunges to 17th place as happened in the 2014 Asiad. Its stunning performance at this year’s event does not necessarily portend its medal winning chances in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo either,’ read the article, adding that it may take the country another 50 years to host the Asian Games again.
But it was not just Indonesia, many other countries, like Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia inflated their medal haul from these unfamiliar sports.
For some countries they came as face saving efforts.
Nepal ended its medal drought on Wednesday with silver from paragliding, another new sport in this meet. Bangladesh’s neighbouring countries like Afghanistan got a bronze in kurash while Myanmar took the bronze in sepak takraw.
The success of neighbours in fringe sports also exposed the organisational inaptitude of Bangladesh Olympic Association, which failed to convince the OCA to retain cricket or add some events like kho kho, which could deliver the country a medal or two.
It also put Bangladesh’s sport policy under scrutiny, raising questions if the country was investing in right sports.
Last year Bangladesh spent nearly Tk 40 crore to host the World Cup of a sport called Roll Ball, which found no place even in such a crowded meet in Jakarta.
The Asian Games 2018 showed Bangladesh would have better spent the money in pencak silat and sepak takraw.
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