`Rising Above', an apt slogan for SAF Games

THE SAF Games will be on next week. That is hardly making any news as India's cricket series in Pakistan has submerged everything else, not just on the sporting front.

THE SAF Games will be on next week. That is hardly making any news as India's cricket series in Pakistan has submerged everything else, not just on the sporting front.

The lack of attention apart, it must be a huge relief to the Olympic fraternity in the region, that the Games are being staged in Islamabad itself after so much of uncertainty. Quite significantly, Afghanistan will be part of the regional sports extravaganza for the first time, and the congregation of nations has thus increased from seven to eight.

There will be about 1500 athletes including 70-odd from Afghanistan, competing in 15 disciplines. The slogan `Rising Above' has been aptly coined to celebrate the ninth edition of the Games.

The idea is to rise above everything, shed all the inhibitions and fears, and be part of the Games. Of course, the red carpet treatment to the cricket team has already allayed the fears in the most pessimistic of hearts.

The full-fledged support of the Indian government apart, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) has been trying to reciprocate the solid support of Pakistan for the successful conduct of the Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad and the successful bid for hosting the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in 2010.

Obviously, India is the super power in the region, and its presence is the key to the success of the Games. The Indian athletes had asserted themselves in the last edition in Kathmandu in 1999, by sweeping 196 medals, including 102 gold medals.

Host Nepal was a distant second with 64 medals, including 31 golds, and the fact that five other countries put together won only 28 gold medals among them should provide a clear indication of India's undisputed supremacy in south of Asia.

Though it may be difficult to challenge India's authority, host Pakistan would attempt to rise above its normal standards and challenge Nepal and Sri Lanka for the second position this time. Already, the Pakistan Prime Minister Zafar Ullah Khan Jamali has addressed his athletes, urging them to peg up their standards and announced cash rewards of Rs.10 lakhs for a gold, Rs.5 lakhs for a silver and Rs. 2 lakhs for a bronze.

It only goes to show how keen Pakistan is to make a positive impact, not just by the conduct of the Games, but with a good fare as well.

The timing of the Games may be questioned not only because it is clashing with the India-Pakistan cricket series, but also for the fact that it is the Olympic year, and the elite athletes in the region are preparing hard for the Games in Athens.

Most of the leading sportspersons in the SAARC fold may not be competing in the SAF Games, but that again would not upset anyone.

It has to be conceded that the attempt is to go ahead with the Games rather than wait for the ideal time and the availability of the leading athletes for the event.

The idea is to capitalise on the available time and make the most of the "feel good factor'' that is pervading in the region at the moment, like a spell of fresh air.

Pakistan has assured that the security would be foolproof and that 2000 army personnel would be pressed into service to keep vigil, as a back up to a strong presence of the police personnel, to ensure a smooth conduct of the Games. India has expressed its satisfaction.

On supervising the facilities, the Secretary General of the Olympic Council of Asia and the Indian Olympic Association, Raja Randhir Singh, has been impressed with the world class infrastructure set up for the Games.

The six-time Olympian shooter, Randhir, has been quoted as saying that the shooting range in particular was the best he had seen in Asia. Having hosted the Games in 1989, Pakistan has the experience and the expertise to make it memorable Games for one and all.

Unlike the general trend in the region when the facilities just about get ready before the Games, Pakistan had announced weeks in advance that it was well ahead of time in terms of preparation and that everything had been made ready for the extravaganza. The 350-strong Indian contingent must be equally keen to use the stage to assert its class.

On the whole, the efforts are on to project Pakistan as a peaceful and progressive country. It is yet another welcome attempt towards fulfilling the commitment of the SAARC nations, to achieving prosperity through peace in the region.