Timor-Leste, Vietnam to make AWG debut
NOC, athletes expected to join Asian Winter Games
SAPPORO, Japan, April 27: With the next two Olympic Winter Games set to take place in Asia, it seems that the continent as a whole is warming to the ice and snow.
Record numbers of National Olympic Committees and athletes are expected to join the Olympic Council of Asia’s 8th Asian Winter Games at Sapporo, Japan, in February 2017 - just one year before the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.
Korea’s first Olympic Winter Games in 2018 will be followed in 2022 by Beijing, which will become the first city to host a summer andwinter games in the history of the Olympic movement another feather in the cap for Asia.
But it is not only the traditional winter sports power houses such as Japan, Korea, China and Kazakhstan that are contributing to the rise in popularity and participation of the Asian Winter Games.
From the sun-baked deserts of the Gulf to the steaming jungles of south-east Asia, athletes are emerging with skates in their bags and hockey sticks over their shoulders in search of ice and snow.
At Sapporo 2017, for example, TimorLeste and Vietnam will be among the countries making their AWG debut, while the ice hockey competition has attracted a bumper entry of 28 teams – 20 in the men’s event and eight in the women’s.
“We have received a lot more entries than we expected,” saidHisatsugu Yamazaki, Manager of the Sports Affairs Department of the Sapporo Asian Winter Games Organising Committee.
“I am surprised that they play ice hockey in such hot countries. We were expecting about 16 teams in total for the men’s and women’s competitions, but we have 28 now.”
These include Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore from the OCA’s South-East Asia zone, and Qatar and Bahrain from West Asia.
Yamazaki believes there are several contributing factors.
“Firstly, the International Ice Hockey Federation is trying to develop this sport in countries outside the traditional hockey-playing nations,” he said.
“Second, it is a sport you can play indoors, without the need for cold conditions outside, and third, the economy of Asian countries is getting better so they can build more ice rinks for the public. In the Gulf andSEA region countries it’s very hot to play sport outside, but an ice rink is cool and it feels nice to play inside.”
A total of 46 delegates from 31 NOCs attended the three-day Chefs de Mission Seminar for the 8th AWG Sapporo 2017, including Mohamad Fadzli Johan, team leader for Malaysia and president of the nationalice skating association.
Malaysia will be entering the figure skating, short track speed skating and ice hockey at Sapporo 2017, with athletes already training inCanada for figure skating and Korea for short track.
“We are also very proud and thankful to the Olympic Council of Malaysia that ice sports will be included in the South East Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur in 2017 for the first time,” he said.
“We really hope this will help our athletes in figure skating and short track qualify for the Olympic Winter Games for the first time– at PyeongChang 2018.”
Vietnam’s winter sports manager, Le Quan, expects five orsix athletes to compete at Sapporo 2017, in cross-country skiing, alpine(slalom), figure skating and possibly snowboard.
He puts the interest down to the PyeongChang 2018 Dream Programme run by Gangwon Province and aimed at giving youngsters from countries with no winter conditions the chance to see snow and ice.
Looking ahead to Sapporo 2017, Mr Le said: “I guess people will think it is very interesting that a tropical country can attend a snowgames. We are also excited.”
As for Timor-Leste, their one athlete set to compete at Sapporo 2017 is already an Olympian: Yohan Goutt Goncalves, born in France to a French father and mother from East Timor, Carolina De Mascarenhas, who is not only the Chef de Mission but also Yohan’s mother.
Yohan, a slalom and giant slalom skier, became the first athlete from his country to compete in the Olympic Winter Games, at Sochi 2014,and it was a proud moment for his mother/chef de mission to march in the opening ceremony behind the flag of the country from which she had left as are fugee in 1975.
Not only did the sight of the flag on the international stage inspire the people back home, it also helped a “lost generation” regain their identity after the 25-year occupation by Indonesia, according to Carolina.
“He became a role model for Timorese athletes and received so many messages from not only young athletes but older people in their 70s and 80s,” she said. “Some students overseas even took up skiing, and admitted that they were scared of the snow before they saw Yohan at the Winter Olympics.”
No doubt in Sapporo next year, TimorLeste, Vietnam and other teams from desert or tropical countries will provide the 8th AWG with another colourful chapter in OCA history.