Let the show begin
The nation is ready for a sporting carnival. The curtain of the 11th South Asian Games finally opens today with the organisers Bangladesh Olympic Association (BOA) excited at the prospect of putting up a show that the region extravaganza, also known as the South Asian Olympics, has never seen before.
When the Games starts at the new-look Bangabandhu National Stadium, Dhaka, which has a rich heritage of 400 years, will hold a unique distinction of hosting the event for a record third time after staging the second and the sixth editions in 1985 and 1993 respectively.
Colombo of Sri Lanka, Islamabad of Pakistan and Kathmandu of Nepal had the experience of staging the regional showpiece event twice each.
The eleventh SAG is also unique for various reasons, as it will see a maximum number of 23 disciplines including three new ones -- cricket, handball and golf. It has been evolving in a spectacular journey that started with only five disciplines in Kathmandu in 1984.
And to give it a look of Olympics, the Games torch for the first time started its journey from the Adams Peak of Sri Lanka.
Besides, the Games will be held in 15 venues across the country unlike the last two editions that Bangladesh staged before only in Dhaka. Three cricket matches will take place in Rajshahi, some football matches will be held in Chittagong while Wushu and Cycling will be held in Sylhet and Khulna respectively.
However, most of the disciplines take place in Dhaka, which has already turned into a sports city with festoons, banners, billboards and posters. The Games will also act as a perfect dress rehearsal for an even bigger event in February next year -- the opening ceremony of the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup.
The arena of the Bangabandhu National Stadium, which will hold the gale opening and closing ceremony, has taken a different look with the construction of a new Wood-Floor Stadium, a Boxing Stadium and a Handball Stadium in close vicinity of the country's premier venue.
Organisers, however, failed to provide some venues as early as possible to the athletes depriving them of getting enough time to get used to with the new facilities.
Athletes will be the centre attraction of the Games and all attention will certainly be on the hosts' athletes, who have been training for one year, a time they had never got before any previous Games.
Keeping the long preparation in mind, the organisers have set their sights on 100 medals including 17 gold, a feat Bangladesh had never achieved before. Their best was 62 medals including 11 gold in the sixth edition on home soil that saw them claimed the third position in the medal standings for the first time.
However, Bangladesh's dream may be thwarted by giant sports nation India, who never finished behind anyone in the eight-nation meet. Besides, India will be more hungry this time as part of their build-up for the Commonwealth Games at own den in October next year.
The South Asian Games sage has been of Indian dominance. Only at 1991 in Colombo and in 1989 at Islamabad Pakistan and Sri Lanka bagged 44 and 42 gold respectively against India's tally of 64 and 61 gold respectively.
Bangladesh will try to put behind a miserable performance in Colombo 2006 where they claimed only three gold, 15 silver and 34 bronze medals and finished just ahead of gold-less Bhutan and Maldives in the eight-nation meet. Pakistan and Sri Lanka as usual will fight for the second position.