The Asian Games 2023 in Hangzhou, China will start on September 23 and conclude on October 8.
The Asian Games have seen its fair share of controversies over time. From protests surrounding Indian wrestlers Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat ahead of the upcoming edition to India’s cricket boycott in 2010, the following are ten controversies involving the Asian Games.
Bajrang, Vinesh’s direct entry into Asian Games raises questions
The wrestling trials for the upcoming Asian Games turned into a big controversy after the ad-hoc committee handed direct entries to Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia, who led the protest against outgoing Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.
The Indian Olympic Association (IOA)-appointed ad-hoc committee decided to conduct the Asian Games wrestling trials behind closed doors after the parents of some of the wrestlers got into a heated argument with panel members. Angry wrestlers and their family members threatened to boycott the trials in protest of the exemption given to Olympic medallist Bajrang Punia (65 kg) and world medallist Vinesh Phogat (53 kg).
Parents of world U20 champion Antim Panghal and another wrestler Vikas Kaliraman’s father Subhash Kaliraman got into a heated argument with the ad-hoc panel members.
India’s Cricket Boycott in 2010
The Guangzhou 2010 Asian Games included the first official international cricket matches that took place in China, but the refusal of India to take part in that edition soured the sport’s debut in the tournament.
India was one of the biggest advocates of including cricket in the Asian Games. Therefore when asked about the boycott, India cited “prior international commitments” as the reason for not participating. The controversy further boiled when Pakistan engaged in a war of words with India, saying that, unlike its arch-rival, it would honour its commitment to “close friend” China.
Bangladesh won the gold medal in that edition after defeating Afghanistan, which had secured a shock win against Pakistan in the semifinal to reach the summit clash.
Iraq bodybuilder Faeaz disqualified without lab tests
The 2006 Asian Games was the last time where bodybuilding was featured as an event.
The edition will always be remembered as Iraq’s Saad Faeaz became the only athlete in Asian Games history who was thrown out without undergoing proper laboratory tests.
The bodybuilder was caught with 134 ampules of nandrolone, an anabolic steroid, on arrival at Doha airport but strangely, was still allowed to compete on a technicality in the 75kg category days later and finished seventh, before later being disqualified.
Soundarajan’s failed gender test
Another major controversy in the 2006 edition of the Asian Games in Doha took place when Indian female athlete Santhi Soundarajan was stripped of her 800m silver medal after she failed a gender test.
The implications extended beyond the Asian Games as the athlete went through public shame in her village after the news broke out. The talented athlete eventually found work in a brick kiln, despite being one of India’s most decorated athletes with 11 international medals.
It was not before 2012 that the Tamil Nadu government recognised her achievements and assisted her in fulfilling her long-held ambition to become a qualified athletics coach.
The Sockgate incident
One of the most bizarre controversies in Asian Games history happened in 2010 when Taiwan’s Yang Shu-Chun staged an hour-long sit-in when she was disqualified- on the brink of victory in the first round in 2010, for having unauthorised scoring sensors on her socks.
This raised widespread furore and politicians in Taiwan claimed that the disqualification was “an insult” to the country. Conspiracy theories about the ‘Sockgate’ scandal started doing the rounds when China’s Wu Jingyu -- Yang’s main rival -- went on to win gold.
It did not stop there. The Asian Taekwondo Union’s website was hacked after it published an article titled “Shocking Act of Deception by Chinese Taipei”.
Tragedy strikes Equestrian in 2006
The equestrian competition at the 2006 Asian Games witnessed a horrible tragedy when 47-year-old South Korean rider Kim Hyung-chil was killed at the eighth jump on the cross-country course.
On a rainy day, Kim, gold medallist in the 2002 Asian Games could not control his horse Bundaberg Black, when its front legs hit the 1.08-metre jump, which was one of the smallest in the course. The impact threw Kim over and the horse landed on him, crushing his chest and head.
Kim did not regain consciousness even after immediate medical attention. Later, he was buried with honours in Korea’s National Cemetery and posthumously received the country’s sporting medal.
Iranian official kicked out after sexual harassment
The 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea saw an Iranian official Amereh Ahmad being kicked out after sexually harassing a female volunteer. He was issued strong warnings after two alleged cases in two cases.
The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) issued a ban on Ahmad from the Games site and instructed the Iranian football team to send the equipment manager home for verbally harassing the volunteer.
There was another incident where a Palestinian footballer was accused of groping a female worker in the athletes’ village laundry room. He was banned from leaving the country as organisers decided to investigate the matter.
Japanese basketball players kicked out
The 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang, Indonesia saw four Japanese basketball players kicked out after they bought the services of sex workers in the red light district of Jakarta.
Commenting on the incident, the OCA said that kicking the Japanese basketball players should serve as a warning to other athletes.
World champion stripped of gold medal
In the 2018 Asian Games, then-Mongolian reigning world champion Orkhon Purvedorj was stripped of her gold medal in the women’s 62-kilogram event after she tested positive for a banned substance.
The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) confirmed Purevdorj had been disqualified as a result of the failed in-competition drugs test after she tested positive for the anabolic steroid Stanazolol during the Games
Purevdorj was not the first wrestler to get involved in a doping incident in the 2018 Asian Games.
Turkmenistani wrestler Rustem Nazarov, who exited the tournament at the first-round stage, tested positive for furosemide, a masking agent, in a pre-competition urine test.
Japanese swimmer found guilty of stealing camera
Japanese swimmer Naoya Tomita was kicked out of the Incheon Asian Games after he was captured on video surveillance putting a US$7,600 (S$9,700) camera into his bag at the swimming venue.
He was charged by the police with stealing the camera of a South Korean journalist and his name was removed from the Japanese team list.
A year later, a South Korean court found Japanese swimmer Naoya Tomita guilty of stealing. Tomita had initially admitted to the charge of stealing but later claimed he was falsely accused.
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