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Asian Games Closes with Sense of Politics’ Influence on Sports

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Journalists from various countries work at the Asian Games media center in Hangzhou, China, on Friday

The curtain came down on Sunday on a successful Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, that had been postponed for a year due to the pandemic and drew crowds appreciative of the return of live sports.

The multi-sports event, which brought together about 12,500 athletes from 45 countries and regions, was originally scheduled for September last year.

The decision to postpone it was made the preceding May, at a time when the nearby city of Shanghai was in lockdown and there were concerns about the holding the games. It seems that the Xi Jinping administration wanted to avoid a possible disaster by forcing the Games to be held.

It was China’s third time as host of the Asian Games, after previously being held in Beijing and Guangzhou. Compared to the 1990 Beijing Games, which was held as a show of national prestige, this year’s event highlighted operations that made the use of the latest digital technology.

In line with the authorities’ long-term plan of making China a “sports powerhouse,” the host nation showed its dominance by accumulating more than 200 gold medals, far more than Japan with the second most.

At the same time, a political atmosphere infiltrated every aspect of the Games. In the past, North and South Korea formed joint teams or marched together in the Opening Ceremony, but with the deterioration of relations between the two, such fellowship was nowhere to be seen.

 In the women’s soccer final between Japan and North Korea, there was booing from the crowd when the Japanese national anthem was played, and disappointed voices echoed whenever Japan scored a goal. The same was seen during the women’s basketball final between Japan and China, during which booing broke out whenever Japan had the advantage.

The next Asian Games will be held in Nagoya in 2026. It is hoped that Japan, as the host country, will make the Games a mature event in which athletes are given their due respect.