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    Politics, officiating mishaps mar China’s COVID-delayed Asian Games

    HANGZHOU, China, Oct 9 (Reuters) – With no major security incidents and a record gold medal haul for its athletes, China will regard the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou as a soft power triumph that ticked a number of political, sporting and operational boxes for the hosts.

    In reality, the nation’s first major sporting event in the post-COVID era was marred by diplomatic tensions, slapdash officiating and a dearth of accountability by the organising bodies.

    Before its dazzling opening ceremony, the Games were overshadowed by a visa row that prevented three Indian athletes from competing.

    The martial artists were from a region of India contested by China, and India’s sports minister cancelled a planned visit to the Games in protest.

    The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), which runs the multi-sport event, said it was looking into the issue but never offered another word about it.

    The Games’ clumsy official slogan was “Heart to Heart, @Future” but a more suitable one might have been: “Let things slide.”

    North Korea arrived in force for its first major sporting event since the 2018 Asian Games, having shut its doors to the world — and international drug testers — for years.

    Being non-compliant to the global anti-doping code, the reclusive nation’s flag is banned at multisport events outside the Olympics but flew at Hangzhou with the backing of the OCA.

    About 12,400 athletes from 45 countries competed, a year later than scheduled because of COVID-19.

    World-class quality was sparse in much of the 40-sport programme but there were some stunning achievements, notably in the pool, where China’s swimmers shone.

    Having been beaten by Japan for swimming medals at Jakarta, China won 28 of the 41 titles, continuing its resurgence after an impressive world championships in Fukuoka.

    Butterfly queen Zhang Yufei and breaststroke king Qin Haiyang combined for 11 golds, earning the Games’ MVP awards.

    Teenager Pan Zhanle emerged as a threat for the Olympic 100 metres freestyle next year, swimming at world record pace in the 4x100m medley relay.

    Dominating in their traditional strengths of badminton, diving and table tennis, China topped the medal table for the 11th successive Games with 201 golds, outstripping their previous best of 199 at Guangzhou in 2010.

    Second-placed Japan had 52 golds and South Korea was third with 42. Big improvers India were thrilled to finish fourth with a national record 28 golds, and smashed their target of 100 medals overall.

    Breakdancers competed at the Games for the first time in a preview of the discipline’s Paris Olympic debut.

    Esports‘ debut as a medal event proved a hit. Local fans flocked to see star South Korean gamer Lee Sang-hyeok, better known as “Faker”, in the “League of Legends” category.

    Rested from the final, Lee joined his teammates in winning gold and a coveted exemption from South Korea’s compulsory military service.

    Paris St Germain midfielder Lee Kang-in can also skip military service, with South Korea beating Japan 2-1 in the men’s soccer final.

    Qatari high jump great Mutaz Barshim cruised to a third Asian Games gold, but the athletics was marred by controversy and official blunders.

    An official suffered a broken leg and serious bleeding after being hit by a misthrown hammer.

    Olympic and world champion Neeraj Chopra won the javelin but had to re-take his first effort after a long and confusing hiatus, with officials having failed to record his mark.

    The women’s 100m hurdles descended into farce when China’s Wu Yanni had a clear false start only for officials to disqualify Indian rival Jyothi Yarraji.

    Eventual silver medallist Yarraji, who was a step behind Wu, protested and officials corrected their decision, but Wu was allowed to run under protest before finally being disqualified.

    The men’s kabaddi final between India and Iran was halted for an hour over an officiating dispute that saw both teams stage sit-down protests.

    Afghanistan, however, had no recourse when their men’s cricket final against India was abandoned because of rain.

    With no spare day allocated for the weather and no provision to share the medal, India were awarded the gold purely by virtue of their higher world ranking.

    North Korea were sore losers after falling 2-1 to Japan in the men’s soccer quarter-finals. Security staff intervened after several of their players mobbed and manhandled the referee on field after the match ended.

    The Games’ drug testers reported seven athletes had been banned for positive tests, including a Turkmenistan athlete who took silver in kurash, the central Asian wrestling event.

    Backed by the OCA and the IOC, women represented Afghanistan in cycling, volleyball and athletics, in defiance of the Taliban, which has halted women’s sport in the country.

    “Nowadays, they are looking for hope,” said Afghan volleyballer Mursal Khedri of women athletes in the nation. “By seeing us here they can find hope.”

    Additional reporting by Martin Pollard; Editing by Gerry Doyle

    Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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