After two decades, the South Asian Games are being held on Indian soil. The third and seventh editions had been held in Kolkata (1987) and Cheni (1995) when the number of disciplines were much less. The 12th edition has been delayed by four years, but as far as Guwahati and Shillong are concerned — better late than never. After all, it would have been Delhi hosting this edition back in 2012 had its assembly elections not come in the way. So two capital cities in the Northeast have gotten the opportunity to co-host this multi-sport event, with 16 disciplines and men’s football in Guwahati and seven disciplines and women’s football in Shillong. The South Asian Games this time is also being promoted as a 'gender equal' Games with high emphasis on participation of women players and teams in all events. The country’s biggest sporting festival, the tiol Games, had visited this region twice earlier — Manipur in 1999 and Assam in 2007 giving good account as host States. But the South Asian Games, governed by the South Asian Sports Council, is giving an opportunity in 2016 to showcase Assam and Meghalaya before eight SAARC countries. Needless to say, the two state governments should seize this opportunity with both hands. Surely this chance should not be missed to set up world class sporting infrastructure, and ensure their continued use and good maintence afterwards. No efforts should be spared to publicise the events and ensure hassle-free attendance at the sporting venues. The logistics involved in transportation, accommodation and security will be huge, requiring rapid response and coordition of a high level. With Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan sending large contingents, the security aspect has gained topmost priority, keeping in mind the trouble making potential of militant outfits like the ULFA(I) in Assam and the GNLA in Meghalaya.
In the run up to the games, there has also been much political blame game over the release of funds by the Central government. Union Sports minister Sarbanda Sonowal has claimed that Rs 211 crore has been released under various heads; the Assam Sports minister has countered that only Rs 94.6 crore has been received so far. For sports lovers in Assam, this slanging match has been distressing, for the tussle between Delhi and Dispur threatens to undermine smooth conduct of the Games. With the pride of two Northeast States as well as the entire country at stake, there can be no place for such wrangling and passing the buck. The Central and State governments all need to put shoulder to the wheel to make the South Asian Games roll. It may be an intertiol sporting event, but tourism, culture and other sectors can look for positive spin-offs. For over 2,600 athletes as well as large numbers of sports officials and supporters, the biggest plus from this visit ought to be the warmth and spontaneous friendliness of the NE people. Let the visitors be looked after well, let their exploits on the sporting are be cheered and feted. Dr Bhupen Hazarika’s ‘Ei Prithibi Ek Krirangan’ is fittingly the theme song of SAG 2016; if the bard’s lyrics celebrated the entire world as a playground, it is the right spirit to welcome this landmark sporting event to this region. India’s Northeast has been recognised as a region with raw sporting talent in several disciplines by the country’s sports administrators. If this potential is to be tapped and unlocked, the NE States will have to attract such events in future and leverage these to build up dymic sporting cultures. Overall, the South Asian countries may be minnows at the Olympic level, which is all the more reason for building a wide social base for sports in a region housing one-fifth of humanity. The thirst for sporting excellence and the relentless striving for medals should percolate down and diffuse outwards to involve the larger society in active, fit and healthy living.