Fireworks illuminate the Kathmandu sky during the opening ceremony of the 13th South Asian Games (SAG) at the Dasharath Stadium in Tripureshwar on Sunday. Photos: Bijay Rai/Dipendra Rokka/Keshab Thoker/Dipesh Shrestha/Republica
KATHMANDU, Dec 2: The 13th edition of South Asian Games (SAG) officially began amid fanfare during the opening ceremony at the Dasharath Stadium in Kathmandu on Sunday.
Nepal President Bidhya Devi Bhandari declared the largest ever Games, in terms of sports disciplines and number of participating athletes, open at the three-hour program at the newly renovated and retrofitted stadium.
The president of the organizing committee and Minister of Youth and Sports Jagat Bahadur Bishwakarma, President of South Asian Olympic Council (SAOC) and Nepal Olympic Committee (NOC) Jeevan Ram Shrestha and National Sports Council (NSC) Member Secretary and SAG Executive Committee Chairman Ramesh Kumar Silwal addressed at the program promising the grand success of the events.
The opening ceremony ran for over 3 hours.
Four-time South Asian gold medalist and Olympian taekwondo athlete Deepak Bista lighted the flame after a torch relay from Olympians Jit Bahadur KC, Nayana Shakya, Rajendra Bhandari, Baikuntha Manandhar, Umesh Maskey and Debu Thapa.
Athletes and officials took part in a march-past with Olympian weightlifter Kamal Bahadur Adhikari bearing the national flag of Nepal.
Former national cricket team captain Paras Khadka took the oath on behalf of the athletes, while international badminton referee Deepak Thapa took the oath behalf of all the judges and referees that will be officiating during the events.
The opening ceremony also featured SA Games official song performed by singers Kunti Moktan, Ananda Karki, Satya Raj Acharya and Indira Joshi among others, while Nepal APF performers displayed the names of the seven participating nations through mass calisthenics.
About 5,000 delegates and athletes for the seven SAARC member countries will be participating in 28 sports disciplines (including beach volleyball and 3×3 basketball) which will be held in 29 sports venues in three cities. They will be competing for 324 gold and silver each and 487 bronze medals. This is also the first time the country is hosting the Games across three cities: Kathmandu, Pokhara and Janakpur.
Pokhara will host women’s football and cricket, archery, badminton, handball, triathlon, beach volleyball and weightlifting while Janakpur will host wrestling. The rest of the events will be held in Kathmandu.
Although the Games were inaugurated on Sunday, volleyball had started on Wednesday.
Nepal is hosting the regional mega sports event for the third time from December 1 to 10 in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Janakpur, after hosting it in 1999 and 1984 when it started under the banner of South Asian Federation Games.
The SAG, also known as the Olympics of the south Asian countries had come to existence from Nepal in 1984, where only five sports, football, boxing, athletics, weightlifting and swimming were included. Nepal had won four gold medals (two in boxing, one in football and one in athletics), 12 silvers and eight bronze to finish fourth.
Olympian Deepak Bista lights the Olympic torch.
In 1999, the SAG returned home for the second time as the eighth edition where Nepal won record 31 gold medals, 10 silvers and 24 bronzes in 12 sports disciplines to finish second in medal tally.
Girls carry a wooden cut out of the 13th SAG.
The regional games was finally inaugurated defying hundreds of challenges including infrastructure delay which saw the multi-sports being postponed for two times earlier this year.
Nepal is fielding the highest number of athletes — 596 — in all 26 sports categories (28 disciplines).
According to the Technical Committee, the SA Games powerhouse, India, has sent 487 athletes in 22 disciplines, while Sri Lanka has entered 564 athletes in 26 disciplines. Likewise, Bangladesh has sent 470 athletes in 25 disciplines, while Pakistan has registered 263 athletes in 18 sports. Bhutan (116) and Maldives (216) are taking part in 18 and 12 disciplines respectively.
The Games will offer a total of— 324 gold and silver each along with 481 bronze — with swimming being at the top with 38 gold medals. Athletics is offering 36 gold medals, while taekwondo is offering 29. Out of the 29 sports disciplines included in the SA Games, paragliding was cancelled after the sport failed to get minimum of three teams.