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Friday, September 19, 2014

Sardar Singh, the flag-bearer for Indian Contingent in Incheon Asiad

The 2014 Asian Games, officially  XVII Asiad, the largest sporting event in Asia is scheduled to take place in Incheon, South Korea from September 19 – October 4, 2014 - with 439 events in 36 sports and disciplines set to feature in the Games.  The opening ceremony will start at 18:00 local time  today,  Korea is 3.30 hrs ahead of IST. The performance will include four acts, from "Asia long time ago", "Asia meeting through the sea", "Asia as family and friends", and "Asia as one and future joining with today".

In the previous version in 2010, the total medals scooped by the Indian contingent was 65 -- comprising 14 gold, 17 silver and 34 bronze ; the sizeable heist in Guangzhou piloted the country to a highly creditable sixth spot on the table which was topped by hosts China with a staggering haul of 199 gold medals.  Earlier in 1982 Asiad at New Delhi, India finished at 5th spot.  India ended up eighth in 2002 when South Korea previously hosted the Games. 

This time the  Indian contingent is 679-strong -- including 516 athletes – pruned  from the initial 942 comprising 662 athletes and the rest officials.  In most  International events, the traditional part of the ceremonies starts with a "Parade of Nations", during which most participating athletes march into the stadium, country by country. It is not compulsory for athletes to participate in the opening ceremonies.  Each country's delegation is led by a sign with the name of their country and by their nation's flag and one naturally gets emotional seeing their own Country as also their favourite athletes marching in.  Sardar Singh, Captain of the National Hockey team  will be India’s flag-bearer in the Asian Games opening ceremony.  Sardar Singh made his debut against Pakistan in 2006. He is a Deputy Superintendent of Police.  India won Gold in 1966 and 1998.  Overall South Koreans have won 8 equalled by Pakistan.

Leading the contingent and being a flag-bearer is a great honour and just as I thought that Hockey rightfully is getting pride of place, the words of Chef-de-Mission Adille Sumariwalla puts it different. "There were so many contenders, we asked them. Wrestlers are not there, boxers are not there. The badminton event is starting the day after and so do the shooters." The former national sprint champion and Olympian explained that  the focus should not be on the flag bearer, which was just symbolic, but on winning honours at the Games. Sumariwalla added that because of the restrictions imposed by the organisers, each country cannot field more than 130 persons in the parade.  It can be less but not more – with a contingent of more than 500 athletes and Chef de-mission is unsure of getting the required numbers for the show !.  Meanwhile, the Indian tri-colour was hoisted at the Athletes Village in a lively ceremony, which included dancers on stilts, on Thursday.

During London Olympics, it was stated that leading the contingent as flag-bearer  is a great honour and there were days of speculation as to who it would be, before it fell on wrestler Sushil kumar.  Sushil Kumar who  won the gold medal in the 66 kg freestyle competition at the FILA 2010 World Wrestling Championships and a bronze medal in the Men's 66kg Freestyle Wrestling event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics had the honour of leading the Indian contingent in Olympics Opening ceremony.   There was some controversy as - a mysterious woman walked alongside Indian flagbearer  – the Security, the Organisers, the Indian Contingent – administrators and Managers – none cared to see ‘who she was’ ? and why someone would walk ahead of more famous athletes !!!! It was supposed to be one of the proudest moments of their lives for those competing, the chance to show the world that they were ready to take part in the Olympics. But in the front was a woman wearing  a red top and turquoise trousers while athletes were dressed in yellow turbans or saris.  Later she was identified to be  ‘Madhura’, a dancer from Bangalore. 

Any reference to Asiad might perhaps take us to the sad memories of that singularly drastic defeat handed over in the Delhi Asiad way back in 1982. New generation would only read as 32  years have fleeted past but many of us  cannot forget the sadness of watching India going down 1-7 and would remember Mir Ranjan Negi.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

19th Sept. 2o14.

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