Hangzhou: The main target of Saudi participation in the 19th Asian Games is to uplift the contingent’s performance, the squad’s spokesperson told Arab News, as the Kingdom is preparing to host the games in Riyadh.
A total of 188 Saudi athletes, including 19 women, are competing in 19 sports at venues spread across Zhejiang province in eastern China. The games started on Sept. 23 and will conclude on Oct. 4.
During a glittering opening ceremony in Hangzhou, equestrian Ahmed Adnan H. Sharbatly and taekwondo athlete Dunya Ali Abutaleb held the Kingdom’s flag, leading its delegation in a march pass.
The opening ceremony was one of the best spectacles in sports with the use of technology and lightning, setting a benchmark for the next hosts, including Riyadh, which will organize the 22nd edition of the pan-Asian multi-sport event in 2034.
“The ceremony was impressive,” Abdulaziz Al-Baqous, media attache to the Saudi Olympic & Paralympic Committee for the 19th Asian Games, told Arab News, referencing the technology that was used.
Saudi Arabia has yet to register any number on the medal tally. Success is expected in athletics — the sport in which Saudi Arabia has won 17 out of its 25 gold medals in the games’ history.
Al-Baqous, who has been working with the committee since 2016, feels the target for the Saudi team this time is to better its previous performance in the 2018 Asian Games held in Indonesia. At the time, the Kingdom won one gold, two silver, and three bronze medals.
“The expectation from the Saudi team is to first (improve upon) the performance from the last Asian Games. Then to start pulling up the scales as we will be hosting the games in 2034,” he said. “We need to work harder and realize our targets in the coming years.”
Saudi Arabia’s participation this time has not been limited to traditional sports, with esports making its debut as a medal sport in the 19th Asian Games, and the 21 players from the Kingdom competing in the category.
The Kingdom has been investing heavily in the discipline and is emerging as a powerhouse in esports development under its Vision 2030 transformation programs.
“Vision 2030 and its initiatives are a key enabler for all athletes. It is just the beginning. The strategies that were announced recently, i.e. the federation support strategy, the clubs support, also the Olympic training center, are the long-term programs — they will bring results in the future and that is why our delegation has young participants and new sports too,” Al-Baqous said.
“We are confident with time, will be seeing the results from these strategies and massive investments in sports.”
For Al-Baqous, the Asian Games was not just about competition but also about allowing athletes to meet their counterparts from other countries and establish connections with them.
“For me, the participation in Asian Games is beyond sports,” he said. “It is also an opportunity to gather and socialize between sports fraternities in Asia, getting to share culture.”