Established as a vehicle to foster friendship and peace besides ensuring regular sporting contact between countries in the region, the South Asian Games has definitely grown in stature after the inaugural edition in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 1984.

And as India is all set to host the event for a third time after Kolkata (1987) and Chennai (1995), the nation’s juggernaut is once again expected to demolish the opposition from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Nepal and Maldives from February 5 to 16 this year at the twin host cities of Guwahati and Shillong.

The event was originally scheduled to be held way back in 2012, but had to be postponed time and again due to varying reasons. And though it is being finally held, there are still a few loose ends to be tied (at least at the time of writing this piece) particularly with matters concerning the participation of Pakistan in the background of the terror attack in Pathankot on January 2 this year. But the organisers are hopeful that it would be a full house yet again.

According to prevailing Immigration rules, any visitor to India from Pakistan is only allowed to land either in New Delhi or Mumbai. But with the Pakistan Sports Board having made a request to fly out its teams directly to Guwahati, the decision of the Union Home Ministry remains to be seen.

India, according to figures made available, is expected to field the biggest contingent — 518 — followed by Sri Lanka (484), Bangladesh (409), Nepal (398), Pakistan (337), Afghanistan (254), Maldives (184) and Bhutan (87). The event, unlike the two earlier editions in the country, is also being directly funded by the Union Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs to the tune of Rs. 70 to 80 crores. This includes the renovation of existing stadia and the construction of the lone new facility — the squash centre in Guwahati — which is expected to be completed by the last week of January.

Guwahati will be the main host city where the competitions are to be held in athletics, badminton, basketball, cycling, football, handball, hockey, kabaddi, kho-kho, shooting, squash, swimming, tennis, triathlon, volleyball, weightlifting and wrestling besides the opening and closing ceremonies. Shillong will be the venue for archery, boxing, football (women), judo, table tennis, taekwondo and wushu.

A major problem is the clash of dates with the fourth edition of the Hockey India League, which is to run for a month from January 18, raising anxiety whether a full strength Indian team will be fielded in the discipline. Barring this, the Indian contingent is expected to be top heavy with all the stars, barring a few like Saina Nehwal and Abhinav Bindra, slated to make an appearance to help the home contingent stamp its domination for the 12th time in a row.

Over the last 11 editions, India has won 1728 medals, inclusive of a whopping 900 gold, 542 silver and 286 bronze to open up a wide gap ahead of Pakistan (1022, 311-375-336) and Sri Lanka (928, 185-288-455). And with top guns like Gagan Narang, Apurvi Chandela, Gurpreet Singh, Vijay Kumar, Chain Singh and Prakash Nanjappa in shooting and Saurav Ghosal, Harinder Singh Sandhu, Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal to figure in squash, it could well be India to the fore once again. But there are observers who feel that these Games should have been an ideal platform for youngsters instead of the tried and tested. At least those who have made the qualifying mark for the Rio Olympics later this year could have been left alone to remain focussed on their training for the dream event.

Narendra Modi to inaugurate Games

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be the chief guest at the opening ceremony of the 12th SAG to be held here on Friday. This was confirmed to The Hindu by the Organising Committee CEO Injeti Srinivas, who said the Prime Minister would be making a short trip to the city for the inauguration of the fortnight-long Games.

The opening ceremony will feature an elaborate celebration of sport in which hundreds of local artistes and school children are expected to participate.