The opening ceremonies of the sixth Asian Winter Games in Chuangchun.

The Asian Games bring together athletes from Asian and Middle Eastern nations every four years to compete in conventional Olympic sports, as well as traditional regional and national sports. China and Japan dominate the events, which often serve as practice rounds for the Summer Olympics. China first hosted the event, the eleventh Asian Games, in Beijing in 1990.

Founded after World War II on the Olympic ideal of fostering peace and cooperation through sports, the Asian Games host competitions among Asian and Middle Eastern countries. The athletes compete in conventional Olympic sports, as well as traditional regional and national sports. China and Japan dominate most high-profile events, which increasingly function as preparation and proving grounds in years between Summer Olympics.

Japan won the overall championship in the first Asian Games (which had no Chinese participation) and all subsequent games up to 1978, with China the perennial winner since 1982. Taiwan’s entry as the Republic of China caused considerable controversy from the 1960s on. The controversy subsided only with the People’s Republic of China’s admission to the Olympic Games and an agreement whereby Taiwan would compete as the Chinese Taipei team.

China first hosted the event, the eleventh Asian Games, in Beijing in 1990, showcasing the city’s ability to host a major sports event. In spite of Beijing’s failed bid to host the 2000 Olympics, the Asiad helped lay the foundation for later success in landing the 2008 Olympics. China will host the sixteenth Asian Games, scheduled for 2010 in Guangzhou.

What has become Asia’s largest sports event has antecedents in earlier regional meets, notably the Far Eastern Games, initiated in Manila in 1913 and lasting through ten iterations to 1934, with hosting rotating among the Philippines, Japan, and China until the games succumbed to the expanding war in the Pacific in the late 1930s. The inaugural Asian Games were staged in New Delhi, India, in 1951, with eleven countries (not including China) competing in six sports—athletics, aquatics, basketball, cycling, soccer, and weightlifting. Although membership has fluctuated, the scale of the event has grown steadily, with the fifteenth Asian Games, held in 2006 in Doha, Qatar, drawing forty-five countries to participate in thirty-nine sports. As anticipated, China won the most medals, 316, with Japan winning 198 and Korea 193.

Planning has been periodically disrupted by disputes among member countries, leading to relocation but never cancellation. Other controversies have included Arab nations’ opposition to Israel’s participation, resulting in Israel being excluded (and redirected to European competitions); and admission of the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan over some members’ objections. The Asian Games’ hallmark today is diversity: Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu athletes mingle with nonreligious athletes; medal hopes come from highly developed countries and poor ones; and conventional Western sports such as basketball, gymnastics, and swimming take place alongside the Southeast Asian kick-volleyball known as sepak takraw, the South Asian tag-and-catch game kabaddi, and a highly touted bodybuilding competition.

In the 1980s the Olympic Council of Asia replaced the Asian Games Federation in overseeing the Asian Games. The council has steadily broadened its purview by launching the Asian Winter Games, first held in Sapporo, Japan, in 1986 (with the sixth held in Chuangchun, China, in 2007); the Asian Indoor Games, begun in 2005 and including such non-Olympic sports as bowling, chess, aerobics, billiards, dance, and indoor soccer; and the Asian Beach Games, scheduled to begin in 2008 in Indonesia.

Further Reading

Fan Hong. (Ed.). (2006). Sport, nationalism and orientalism: The Asian Games. New York: Routledge.

MacGregor, J. (2007, February 26). Everything is illuminated. Sports Illustrated, 58–68.

Miller, D. (2006, December 30). Asian Games sound wake-up call for IOC. Daily Telegraph.

Source: Polumbaum, Judy. (2009). Asian Games. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 110–111. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Asian Games (Yàyùnhuì ???)|Yàyùnhuì ??? (Asian Games)

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