Ashgabat on the spotlight as 2017 Asian Games Open

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The opening ceremony of the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG) has taken place in Turkmenistan’s capital, Ashgabat.

The ceremony was attended by a number of heads of state and governments’ officials, including the presidents of Afghanistan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Ashgabat, first in the former Soviet Central Asian region, won the right to host the Asian Indoor Games. The host city was chosen in Kuwait on 19 December 2010.

On 6 July 2013, the flag of the Olympic Council of Asia was officially handed over to the mayor of the city of Ashgabat.

The colourful opening ceremony on Sunday evening was held at the newly-built Olympic Stadium in Ashgabat, presided over by the President of Turkmenistan.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s administration has spent billions on arenas hosting the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in the hope of turning his country, which has never won an Olympic medal- into a sports power.

With a glitzy sports show and a multi-billion-dollar spending spree, isolated Turkmenistan wants to show itself to the world.

Turkmenistan, a gas-rich former Soviet nation in Central Asia, has comparatively little contact with the outside world and sees few foreign visitors. Its authoritarian government is regularly criticised by human rights organisations.

Previously, a low key offshoot of the Asian Games, the event was re-imagined Sunday with a lavish opening ceremony that stressed Turkmenistan’s love of animals, featuring acrobats on horseback and a dog handler leading the athletes’ parade.

Almost 6000 athletes from 65 Nations have flown in to compete in 21 different sporting disciplines from 17 to 28th September.

 Multitudes of journalists from across the globe are also in attendance.

It promises moments of excitement, disappointment and record- breaking as competition moves on.

Besides the arenas which make up Ashgabat’s Olympic Village, the government also splashed out $2.3 billion on an airport terminal- shaped like a falcon.

The pregame construction was allegedly marred by what human rights groups, called the mass demolition of local people’s houses to make way for sports venues.

The first edition of the Games was held in Bangkok, Thailand, while the second was hosted by Macau, China.

Hanoi, Vietnam staged the third edition, while the fourth edition was held in the city of Incheon, South Korea.

This event is the biggest sporting event Turkmenistan is hosting, with state-of-the-art facilities capable of hosting the Olympic Games in place.

 Sports events listed to feature in the Games include kickboxing, track- cycling, bowling, kurash, sambo, muaythai, ju jitsu, billiard sports and short course swimming.

Others are futsal, traditional wrestling, dance sport, 3×3 basketball, indoor tennis, equestrian jumping, wrestling, chess, indoor athletics, weightlifting and belt wrestling.

In the seven years since Turkmenistan was awarded the games, the price of natural gas-the country’s only major export has fallen, putting extra strains on government finances.

Turkmenistan is bordered by Kazakhstan to the northwest, Uzbekistan to the north and east, Afghanistan to the southeast, Iran to the south and southwest, and the Caspian Sea to the west.

Author: Alieu Ceesay in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan