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Asian Games

Controversies at Asian Games over the years

Anti-India protests in Indonesia, an athlete disqualified for her pair of socks, manipulating wind conditions with ACs - The list of controversies in the history of the Asian Games boggles the mind.

Controversies at Asian Games over the years
A Taiwanese athlete is disqualified by Chinese referees in an apparently political act in 2010 (left); Sarita Devi refuses her medal in 2014; A cat takes a walk on the Athletics track in 2018

The Bridge Desk

Updated: 16 Sep 2023 11:08 AM GMT

The Asian Games, the largest multi-sport event in the world after the Olympics, serves as a platform for promoting international sportsmanship and cultural exchange among Asian nations. Its motto of 'Ever onward', however, can also be used for the range of controversies - political, organisational, cheating and doping-related cases - that have struck the Games over the years.

1962 Jakarta Asian Games - India fights for Taiwan, Israel

The Indonesian government's decision to boycott Taiwan and Israel led to India being at the centre of a storm in Jakarta almost sixty years ago. Taiwan, which was fighting for its right to sovereignty, was kept out of the Games, presumably on China's bidding. A Chinese radio announcement described the exclusion of Taiwan as the "correct decision".

Similarly, Israel was kept out owing to religious differences. Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population.

India's GD Sondhi, who was the vice-president of the Asian Games Federation, was the most vocal critic of this move, and he proposed that the Games be not called the 'Asian Games' without Israel and Taiwan. There were furious protests and riots on the streets of Indonesia following this. More than 1000 rock-throwing protesters attacked the Indian embassy in Jakarta and Sondhi had to flee the country.

In his Lok Sabha statement on the anti-Indian demonstrations in Jakarta, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru hinted at the possibility of the Chinese having had a hand in the anti-India protests.

A report in a Canadian newspaper about the political controversy surrounding India's support of Israel and Taiwan ahead of the 1962 Asian Games

Israel preferred to move to the European Games in the 1980s. Taiwan, on the other hand, have been part of every Asiad edition since the 1980s.

2006 Doha Asian Games - A death at the Asiad

The only time an athlete passed away during competitions at the Asian Games was on a day of terrible weather in Doha, Qatar. 47-year-old South Korean equestrian rider Kim Hyung Chil was killed after he fell from his horse after missing a jump and was crushed by it. Indian rider Palvinder Singh also fell and his horse came down on top of him, but he was uninjured.

Competition resumed after a two-hour break, which angered the Korean contingent. As investigations continued into how the death could have occured and if organisers should have had more safety protocol in place, Olympic Committee President Kim said, "We believe the resumption of the event was a bit too hasty."

In other events, leading Indian female athlete Santhi Soundarajan was stripped of her 800m silver medal after failing a gender test.

2010 Guangzhou Asian Games - 'Sockgate'

China and Taiwan were again in the centre of a storm as the most high-tech controversy of the Asian Games yet hit when China last hosted the Games. Taiwan's Yang Shu Chun was on the brink of victory in the first round of the Taekwondo competition but was disqualified for allegedly having unauthorised scoring sensors on her socks although the socks had been cleared in a pre-bout inspection.

Shu Chun staged an hour-long sit-in between tears after she was disqualified. Politicians in Taiwan claimed the disqualification was an 'insult' to the country. When China's Wu Jingyu went on to win the gold medal at the event, conspiracy theorists had more fodder for complaints. Hosts China, it was alleged, deliberately insulted Taiwan to favour the home athlete.

2014 Incheon Asian Games - Sarita Devi refuses her medal

There was another Indian at the centre of controversy at the Asian Games nine years ago, as boxer Sarita Devi became international news for refusing her bronze medal in protest against biased judging towards South Korea's boxers.

China also accused Korea of manipulating results. “We did not lose because of technique or tactics, but due to some man-made reasons. The South Koreans deliberately controlled the wind blow in the stadium and took advantage of it. When we played with tailwind, the wind was very strong, but when the wind was behind them, they shut down the air conditioning," said China's badminton coach after a defeat in the team events to the home nation.

Yet another controversy erupted when the Qatari women's basketball team were not allowed to wear hijabs, citing safety concerns. The Qatari team withdrew from the tournament in protest.

2018 Jakarta Asian Games - A cat and falling flags

The last Asian Games were majorly devoid of political controversies, but there were a few logistical and organisational challenges. A cat ran into the track of the Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium during the interval of the women's 100m qualification competition. Fans applauded the cat as it made its way around the track.

Chinese swimmer Sun Yang was less impressed when the flags of the three medalists crashed to the ground due to a technical malfunction during the medal ceremony. The Chinese immediately demanded that the ceremony be conducted again, after which members from the military held up China's flag physically as the Chinese anthem was played again.

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