HANGZHOU - Chinese President Xi Jinping declared the 19th Asian Games open at a colourful ceremony in Hangzhou on Saturday, launching a two-week sporting extravaganza that boasts more athletes than the Olympics. After being delayed by a year because of China’s now-abandoned zero-Covid policy, more than 12,000 competitors from 45 nations and territories will battle it out in 40 sports. In front of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other visiting leaders, Xi officially opened the Games at the 80,000-capacity Hangzhou Olympic stadium, also known as “the Big Lotus”.
President Xi began his speech by expressing his delight at joining old and new friends to celebrate the opening of this prestigious sporting event. He conveyed his greetings on this special day of the Autumn Equinox, known as Qiufen in the Chinese lunar calendar, a day symbolizing harvest and reunion.
China, honored with the privilege of hosting the Games, was praised by President Xi for its dedication and tireless preparations. He emphasized the country’s commitment to delivering an event that is distinctly Chinese, uniquely Asian, and spectacular, thereby contributing to the Olympic Movement in Asia and the world.
President Xi highlighted the significance of the Asian Games as a symbol of peace, unity, and inclusiveness for the people of Asia. He urged the nations in the region to utilize sports to promote peace, good neighborliness, and mutual benefit, while rejecting Cold War mentalities and bloc confrontations. President Xi envisioned Asia as an anchor of world peace.
The 19th Asian Games has broken records with the highest number of registered athletes and events, reflecting the immense support from the Asian people. President Xi stressed the importance of unity and solidarity in the face of global challenges, emphasizing the motto of “Ever Onward” by the Olympic Council of Asia. He called for broader prospects for the Asian road toward common development, openness, and integration.
Asia’s rich cultural heritage was also celebrated as President Xi noted the inclusion of disciplines with distinctive Asian features at the Games. He encouraged the use of sports to promote inclusiveness, confidence in Asian civilizations, and exchanges with the world.
President Xi reminisced about Hangzhou’s centuries-old history, describing it as “the City of Heaven” with breathtaking beauty. He praised Zhejiang Province for its commitment to reform and modernization, emphasizing its role as a pioneer in Chinese development. To conclude his speech, President Xi proposed a toast to the success of the 19th Asian Games, the advancement of the Olympic Movement, the unity and friendship of Asian nations, and the health of all distinguished guests and their families.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach was also among the dignitaries -- and leaders from Cambodia, Kuwait and Nepal, among others, had all been expected to attend. “Finally, we can gather for the 19th Asian Games,” Raja Randhir Singh, acting President of Olympic Council of Asia, told the crowd to more cheers. “The one-year postponement was unprecedented in OCA history,” he added.
The security was tight in the area around the arena in the hours leading up to the ceremony, with roads closed and police stationed on street corners. The spectators were given thorough security checks before entering and staff confiscated food and umbrellas. The light rainfall in recent days had stopped. The ceremony concluded with a resounding “Cheers!” as attendees raised their glasses to mark the beginning of the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.