THE Asian Games begins today in Jakarta and Palembang, Indonesia, the world’s second biggest sports event, next to the Olympics, with some 16,000 athletes and officials from 45 countries – with two-thirds of the world’s population – competing in 40 sports.
It has not stirred much interest and attention here because, apart from Rio Olympic silver medalist weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz of Zamboanga City, we have few gold medal contenders among our athletes. China, which is expected to top the medals tally, has Asia’s fastest man Su Bingtian.
Japan has world badminton champion Kento Momota. Singapore has swimmer Joseph Schooling who beat the great Michael Phelps of the US in the Rio Olympics’ 100-m butterfly finals. Malaysia has squash star Nicol David. And South Korea has Son Heung-min whose goal knocked defending champion Germany out of the World Cup in Russia.
Philippine interest in the Asian Games sank even further last week when the Philippines withdrew from the Games’ basketball competition, pleading it had a weak team. Officials later changed their mind and decided to send a team built around Rain or Shine, but the National Basketball Association (NBA) of the United States rejected its bid to include Jordan Clarkson of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then last Tuesday, the NBA turned around and allowed Clarkson to play for the Gilas Pilipinas team, after it was pointed out that two NBA players were on the Chinese team.
Clarkson’s mother was born in Angeles City in Pampanga and while he has never been here, he said he plans this year to visit his mother’s home country which, he said, is known to have a great basketball culture. When he was with the Los Angeles Lakers last year, he joined the large Philippine-American community at the Festival of Art and Culture with his mother Annette Davis and grandmother Marcelina Tullao.
Clarkson will be the country’s flag bearer at the opening ceremonies in Jakarta today. He was not able to join the Philippine squad when it played – and beat – Kazakhstan last Thursday. The team next plays China on Tuesday. All during the Games, we will also be following our other athletes, especially in boxing, gymnastics, taekwondo, jujitsu, judo, and, of course, weightlifting.
Win or lose, we will rooting for our Asian Games competitors. But we will also be hoping for a resurgence in Philippine sports now that we have a new leadership in the Philippine Olympic Committee in the person of Ricky Vargas.