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Asia our future says AOC President

22 February 2017

SAPPORO 2017: Australia debuted at the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan this week and, according to AOC President John Coates, it is just the beginning of Australia’s increasing involvement in Asia.

The Asian Summer Games are next!

The Asian region has a rich history of athletic excellence and Australia has long sought a strong relationship with their northern neighbours.

“I’ve always been keen for us to get more competition in Asia,” Coates said from Sapporo.

“Discussions are underway and I believe there would be great interest in the Asian Games amongst our member sports. Particularly in sports where the Asian countries are strong like gymnastics, badminton and table tennis”.

Australia’s possible involvement will be discussed at the next meeting of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) in September.

The AOC views Asia as the strongest testing ground for their athletes and the excitement at the prospect of increased competition is of little surprise.

It is an enthusiasm that is matched by President of the OCA, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah.

“He has always been very keen for increased participation,” Coates said of Al-Sabah, who was crucial in making Sapporo happen.

Participation in Sapporo came together quickly. Negotiations began in September, only five months out from the Games.

When an agreement was reached, medals were off the table for the team’s debut. Coates however believes there is something much more valuable on offer.

“It gives these athletes as much international experience as possible and these multisport events are unique and rare opportunities.

“It’s one thing to go off to your own world championships in your sport, but I think it’s always very important to be part of a team across a number of sports and learn how to deal with that kind of exposure.”

For many of the 30-strong team, this is their first experience of being on an international team and dealing with the pressures that entails.

“That’s preparing for an Olympic Games. It’s very different to preparing for your own sport,” said Coates, who believes the exchange of athletes is beneficial to all parties.

“They can help us, and we’ll reciprocate, so they can come and compete in our nationals too in events like swimming and rowing.”

It is a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ for Coates, who is looking forward to a stronger presence in Asia moving forward.

“It is too late for Australia to compete in the next Asian Games in Jakarta in 2018 but we would be looking at 2022 China and 2026, Japan. I have always wanted to provide our athletes, Summer and Winter, the opportunity to compete more in Asia and I think this will be possible given our warm welcome in Sapporo and our close working relationship with Sheikh Ahmad.

“There is no reason why it shouldn’t happen. This time-zone is our future.”

Day four of the 2017 Asain Winter Games continues today. You can livestream all the action on the Sapporo17 website.

Nathan Lange

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