A colourful opening draws thunderous applause as South Asian Games beginA three-hour ceremony, showcasing music and dance drawing on Nepal’s diverse culture, put a chaotic build-up to the event on the backburner.
The 13th South Asian Games got underway officially on Sunday, inviting thunderous applause from thousands of enthusiasts who had gathered to watch the colourful opening ceremony.
A crowd of around 14,000 spectators, packed into the Dashrath Stadium, was spruced up just in time for the event.
The build-up to the Games had been chaotic, with the organisers coming under fire for construction delays. But a three-hour ceremony, showcasing music and dance drawing on Nepal's diverse culture, put all the bad headlines on the backburner.
President Bidya Devi Bhandari declared the Games open amid a ceremony marked by laser shows and fireworks display.
Addressing the opening ceremony, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Ishwar Pokhrel expressed satisfaction over the progress made by South Asia in sports in the last 35 years and thanked the organising committee.
“More than the sporting competition, the Games were successful in fostering the relationship among the seven South Asian nations,” said Pokhrel. “I believe the 13th South Asian Games will further enhance unity and friendship.”
The regional Games were first put on board in Kathmandu in 1984.
A total of 2,715 athletes from seven countries will be competing for 1,115 medals, including 317 gold, in 26 disciplines in the 10-day event.
Pokhrel said that the 13th South Asian Games will not only provide newer thinking for the Games in the next millennium, but the Games’ success will also provide the much-needed boost for Visit Nepal 2020.
Member Secretary of the National Sports Council, Ramesh Silwal, sounded a relieved man on Sunday. “The biggest challenge is to ensure all Games facilities are completed on schedule,” said Silwal. “There is no doubt it has been stressful.”
Silwal was indicating to construction delays at some of the venues.
“I’d like to thank everyone involved for their hard work and cooperation to make the Games possible on time,” said Silwal, who also chairs the event’s Executive Committee.
Jeevan Ram Shrestha, president of the South Asian Olympic Council and Nepal Olympic Committee, expressed hope that all the participants would use the occasion to “give their best performance to light up the Games and make their country proud.”
The ceremony began with a march-past as President Bhandari arrived at the stadium, and it ended with a captivating performance by pop singer Deepak Bajracharya.
Deepak Bista, the four-time South Asian Games taekwondo gold winner, lit the Games' cauldron. He was handed over the torch by legendary Nepali marathon runner Baikuntha Manandhar after the final leg of the run around the athletics track at the stadium, which also involved fellow Olympians Rajendra Bhandari, Umesh Maskey and Nayana Shakya.
International cricketer Paras Khadka and international badminton referee Deepak Thapa took the oath on behalf of the participating athletes and match officials respectively.
Acclaimed singers Ananda Karki, Kunti Moktan, Indira Joshi, Milan Newa and Satyaraj Acharya then rendered the 13th South Asian Games’ theme song.
Around 15,000 schoolchildren, singers, dancers from various cultural troupes and personnel from Nepal Police, Armed Police Force and Nepal Army performed breathtaking shows in a meticulous display that was greeted by thunderous rounds of applause.
One of the major attractions on Sunday evening was a mass calisthenics show by 1,500 Armed Police Force personnel. After thundering fireworks, the ceremony came to a close.