Asian Games 2018: With Asiad done and dusted, it's time to take sigh of relief, rest, and reflect on everything that went by

Snehal Pradhan

The athletes who had left. The photographers who arrived two hours before everyone else. The volunteers who stayed two hours after. The journalists who were working well past the closing ceremony. The people at home who remembered to turn on their TVs. Even the accursed official who hogged the spotlight.

The Games belong to all of them.

There was a nine-year-old Indonesian with her skateboard. An 85-year old Philipino who dealt in hands. Jonatan Christie crossed himself after he won in the Istora, as countless women in hijabs screamed his name. India's youngest medal winner was 15, the oldest was 60. 31 medals went to women or women's teams. Tejinder Pal Toor weighed more than 120 kg. Amit Panghal weighed less than 49. Both were heavier by 500 grams and one per cent gold when they left Jakarta.

The Games claimed them all as one.

Medals came to those with big lungs, long legs, short strides and even 12 toes. There were athletes who competed in sports that are not a part of the Olympics. There were athletes who competed in sports that are not a part of your vocabulary. Sports like ju-jitsu, sepak takraw and bridge had medals attached to them here. And in a move that could be prescient, e-sports featured as a demo sport.

It may be the second largest sporting event in the world, but for a lot of athletes, the Asiad is the pinnacle. Ask the Indian compound archery teams, a discipline which isn't at the Olympics. In Jakarta both men's and women's teams lost to rivals South Korea by slim margins, and have to wait another 1400 odd days for another chance. Ask Shardul Vihan, who must say goodbye to his double barreled shotgun, and hone his skill on another weapon, despite finishing among the best in Asia.

But the Games will still await them.

The Asian Games do inclusion better than the Olympics. Rio had 28 sports; there were 59 in Jakarta-Palembang. The Olympics is like the club in your neighbourhood that you can hardly afford to join. Decades of lobbying by federations can end in rejection from an event that once awarded medals for architecture. For 2020, the entire shooting program was in danger of being scrapped. Meanwhile dressage has never been threatened for the last century.

These decisions make for vigorous dinner-table debates. If equestrian events can find a place, why not other events featuring animals (How cool would it be to have dancing dogs as well as dancing horses?) Is bridge really a sport, since it involves no physical activity? If it is, why is chess not here? Are video games the next evolution of the Olympic movement? Will we see drone racing sometime in the near future?

But this is the Asian Games, all are welcome.

The near future also shows up a storm: conflicts loom around sex, gender and everything in between. More and more, society accepts that gender exists in a spectrum, not in poles. And yet sport, the sharpest weapon of the champions of unity, struggles to reconcile this. Science sometime struggles to draw a line between sexes, let alone genders. Hormone levels, especially the big T, are a book to themselves. And these realities collide violently with our sporting world, where we are trying to fit a tapestry into two boxes. There are no clear solutions, not even hazy ones.

Until then, the Games must belong to all.

Those are questions for another time, for Tokyo and Hangzhou. Now is for rest and relief. Now is for reflection. Now is the time to revisit the compelling image of the closing ceremony: a thousand volunteers of all ages, shapes and sizes, sprinting towards our athletes, rubbing shoulders with the best our continent has to offer.

They are our future. This Asian Games belongs to them.

The author is a former India cricketer, and now a freelance journalist and broadcaster. She hosts the YouTube Channel, 'Cricket With Snehal', and tweets @SnehalPradhan

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