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Olympics of poor: Stage for South Asia's sporting development

Monday - December 9, 2019 10:06 pm , Category : SPORTS
Kathmandu, Dec 9 (IANS) Lying in a hospital bed in Nepals capital, a Bangladeshi athlete desperately pled his coach to take him back to contest the 400m dash he had dreamed about winning.
He was one of the favourites to win the race in the 13th South Asian Games here. He had reached the semifinal in the 2017 U-18 World Championships in Kenya bewsides dismantling a 32-year-old Bangladeshi national record earlier this year.
But Jahir Rayhan and a fellow Bangladeshi athlete had to be hospitalized as they began experiencing breathing problems in Kathmandu, which sits 1,400m above sea level, Efe news reported.
Doctors at the Blue Cross hospital ruled the athletes out of the event, which took place on Thursday, an hour and a half after they were hospitalized.
Coach Abdullah Hel Kafi was crying beside the athletes as this signified the end of a long-cherished dream for them to step on the podium at the Games, which began on December 1 and ends on Tuesday.
"It's really unfortunate for us as they couldn't even try their luck in the final," the tearful coach said with Bangladesh mission head Asaduzzaman Kohinoor and other officials from the country waiting outside the hospital.
Bangladesh haven't won a track-and-field gold in South Asian Games since 2006, so they were desperate to win this time. Jahir had represented their best hopes, which ended with heartbreak.
The country is one of seven South Asian nations to participate in the biennial games, known in the region as the "poor people's Olympics".
Athletes from the region compete for 317 gold medals in different events, which also features regional sports such as kho-kho and kabaddi.
India traditionally dominates the meet, having won 1,100 gold medals in the past 12 editions.
In Kathmandu, they did not send athletes in at least five disciplines, including cricket in which India is a global power.
They also kept some top athletes at home to keep them fresh for some of the bigger competitions.
"I don't think India did anything wrong. They are now eying success in major games. Why will they take a risk of injury by sending their athletes here?" said Syed Shahed Reza, secretary-general of the Bangladesh Olympic Association (BOA).
Apart from India, other South Asian countries have rarely enjoyed sporting successes on the global stage. It is the only country in the region to boast an individual Olympic gold medal. The second-most populous country in the world has also tasted some notable successes at the Asian level.
In the 2018 Asian Games held in Jakarta and Palembang, India won 16 gold medals. Nepal and Pakistan, the two other countries in the medal tally, won a silver and four bronze medals, respectively.
Four South Asian countries -- Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Maldives -- failed to win a single medal.
"I believe this is a very important competition for us. We have the chance to compete here with the best in the region. Anything and everything that we get here is big for us," said Muja Mohammed, a 27-year pistol shooter from the Maldives.
Maldivian athlete Hassan Saaid took the meet by storm by winning the gold in men's 100m dash.

--IANS kk/arm